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Microsoft Begins Shipping Surface Hub Meeting Room Machines

Microsoft has started shipping its big-screen Surface Hub videoconferencing and white-boarding products, the company announced today.

The conferencing center products, running Windows 10 and available with either 55-inch HD or 84-inch 4K displays, previously were available at the preview stage. Microsoft designed its Surface Hub products based on the big-screen technology of Perceptive Pixel Inc., a company it acquired back in 2012.

Surface Hubs consist of a combination of Microsoft software and hardware. They come with Office software (Excel, PowerPoint, Word and OneNote) installed, although users also can connect Universal Windows Apps to the screen from their personal devices, if wanted. Surface Hubs also have Skype for Business software installed, which supports voice-over-IP phone calls, videoconferencing, instant messaging and presence capabilities. Surface Hubs have touch screens with whiteboarding capability, which allows users to draw on OneNote displays using a stylus. These whiteboard images can be saved as OneNote files for later use on PCs.

Surface Hub machines have two wide-angle cameras built into the device for video meetings. The hardware specs include fourth-generation Intel Core processors and either Intel HD Graphics 4600 graphics technology for 55-inch screens or Nvidia Quadro K2200 for 84-inch screens.

Not Cheap
Microsoft's announcement describes Surface Hubs as a teamwork product for use by hospitals, tech companies and architectural firms, along with corporate offices and boardrooms. Surface Hubs likely aren't for consumers. They're perhaps a bit pricey for that market.

Forrester Research estimated that Surface Hubs will cost $33,000 initially, but the costs will rise to $54,000 in the first year and $269,500 in the second year. However, in its study (PDF), which was commissioned by Microsoft, Forrester Research estimated benefits of approximately $110,000 and $685,000 in years 1 and 2, respectively, when using Surface Hub.

Surface Hub devices get sold through Microsoft's regional distributors. Sales are available in the U.S., Canadian, APAC and EMEA markets. In the United States, its current distributors include Ingram, Synnex and Tech Data. Microsoft also relies on its partner community to provide installation and other support. Details on Surface Hub sales and support are listed at this page.

Other Skype Products
In addition to its Surface Hub, Microsoft has other videoconferencing products built by its partners that are based on Skype for Business software. These products used to be called "Lync Room Systems" (Skype for Business previously went by the "Lync" product name), but Microsoft announced in November that Lync Room Systems will be rebranded as Skype Room Systems. Partners building Skype Room Systems include Crestron, Polycom and Smart.

Microsoft considers its Surface Hub and Skype Room Systems to be two different products. A Microsoft spokesperson explained last year that Surface Hubs are broader collaboration devices adding Office, OneNote and Universal Windows Apps capabilities, while Skype Room Systems are focused "specifically on delivering a great Skype Meetings experience."

Microsoft also has plans for targeting existing conferencing equipment that can be made to integrate with Skype for Business. Its "Project Rigel" collaboration effort, announced this month, is mustering the efforts of partners to transform common conferencing gear in that regard. Project Rigel promises to bring the Skype for Business meeting experience to "any meeting room with a display or projector." Microsoft announced that partners Logitech and Polycom have already built some Project Rigel equipment. Polycom is also collaborating with Microsoft on cloud-based presence and video teleconferencing products that are expected to arrive in the second half of this year.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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