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on Unified Communications & Collaboration
Dolby made another significant step in bringing Dolby Voice to the audio side of the video conferencing market with its Enterprise Connect announcement of a partnership with BlueJeans Network (BJN). Under the hood, the announcement has two elements. First, BJN is licensing Dolby technology and replacing its own audio stack with Dolby Voice in the company’s onVideo VCaaS service and in the BlueJeans Huddle group meeting solution. Dolby Voice, with its gain control, spatial audio, and noise handling routines addresses common challenges in video conferences such as background noise, echo, delay, half-duplex connections, and uneven sound levels. The second part involves BJN making the Dolby Conference Phone (DCP) a part of the BlueJeans Huddle solution, replacing the iPAD and the Revolabs speakerphone. The DCP supports spatial audio and will soon support a one-touch connection to a BJN meeting.
This is not the first time we’ve run into Dolby at an enterprise-focused conference. BTMeetMe with Dolby Voice was first released in March 2013. You may recall seeing those bright red British phone booths at several industry events. The phone booths are key to getting away from show floor noise and being able to appreciate the Dolby advantages. Since that time, Dolby has forged similar partnerships with West (InterCall Reservationless-Plus with Dolby Voice) and PGi (iMeet) both of which are centered on web conferencing, and Highfive, focused on video conferencing. But with BJN’s large customer base, this deal takes Dolby into the video conferencing mainstream.
It has long been acknowledged that audio performance on a video call is more important than video performance on a video call. I can remember some quasi-academic research results in which participants were asked to rate the quality of video on their conference calls. Those with wideband audio consistently rated the video as superior to that experienced on a low-bandwidth audio call, even though the video in the two sessions was actually identical.
My colleague Ira has published evaluations of Dolby Voice on both the BT conference call service and the Highfive service. In the case of BT, his report concluded, “At the very least, BT MeetMe with Dolby Voice offers a solid audio conferencing experience that is on-par or better than competing offerings. In some situations, however, the resulting experience is above and beyond that currently available from other providers.” Ira’s Highfive report states, “The audio performance using the built-in mics on the Highfive device was acceptable, but not great. However, the audio performance when we used the Dolby Conference Phone was exceptional.”
I expect the results with BJN to be equally or more impressive, given that several years of development have intervened. I should also note that whatever the financial relationship is between BJN and Dolby, BJN is not raising its pricing with the new audio capabilities. Customers are getting a valuable enhancement for free.
As is the case with any conference involving audio, the user experience will depend on the speakerphone or headset, speakers, microphone, etc. An important point to remember is that even without the Dolby Conference Phone or a stereo headset to achieve spatial audio, Dolby voice provides very significant benefits from its wideband audio, automatic gain control, and noise cancellation technologies. The result is an important improvement in clarity and a critical reduction in meeting fatigue.