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How much Polycom can be squeezed into a USB audio / video bar? Introducing the Studio

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How much Polycom can be squeezed into a USB audio / video bar? Introducing the Studio
    

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31 Jan 2019
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On January 29th Polycom / Plantronics unveiled its first audio / video USB peripheral bar - the Polycom Studio.  Polycom has decades of video conferencing and audio innovations in its technology arsenal.  Would that make the Studio better?  We put the Polycom Studio through our initial Wainhouse Research lab testing and are impressed with the results.

The Studio is designed to enable huddle spaces to medium-sized meeting rooms with video and audio capabilities. As a plug-and-play USB device, it will work with virtually all mainstream video collaboration applications on PC or Mac platforms - including Microsoft SfB / Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, and others.

Installation was easy with only two cables to deal with - power and USB. There were no additional drivers or software to install to get the Studio up and running on our Windows PC. Polycom offers the option to download the "Companion" software application for users that may want to take more control of the device, but it's not required to get the Studio working straight out of the box.

The Studio has a 120-degree field of view and 4K resolution camera - which enables it to have digital pan / tilt / zoom capabilities at typical video conferencing resolution (720p) with minimal pixel distortion.  During our use, the Studio maintained very good image quality through most of its 5x zoom range - while some pixelization was noted at maximum zoom, the image is still acceptable for meeting use (and very sharp through the rest of its zoom range).

At this point we pondered - "Polycom's been working on video conferencing technology for decades.  How much of their jewels can possibly be packaged into a USB peripheral?"

To start, the Studio has its own implementation of Polycom's automatic camera tracking technology, which is made available at a push of a button on the included remote. While the tracking is not always perfect and can lag behind the speaker at times, the picture framing generally works well and should prove to be an asset in most meetings - and is unmatched in this product class.

Coming from Polycom, we expected the audio quality to be good - but we didn't expect it to be as good as it turns out to be. The speaker output quality is much better than others in this class of product. The volume, "depth", and lack of distortion at a moderately high level makes it seemingly suitable for a larger conference room than its design center - and, dare we say again, is unmatched in this product class.

By default, Polycom's NoiseBlock background noise reduction technology was enabled - and we find that it works well in cancelling the white noise generated by our noise generator as well as typical meeting noises like rustling paper or finger tapping. While nothing can remove all background noise, we found that NoiseBlock does a credible job - and, again, should prove to be an asset in most meetings.

Polycom's Acoustic Fence capability, which removes all sounds generated outside of a specified angle in front of the device, is turned off by default. Once enabled, it works well by aggressively eliminating almost all audio - including voices - outside of an 80-degree wide field in front of the Studio. Overall, NoiseBlock seems to control extraneous sounds better with fewer vocal artifacts than the Acoustic Fence - which at times tended in our testing to over-suppress voices.  This being said, we can see why the Acoustic Fence is not enabled by default, because the 80-degree field is narrower than the field of the camera.  Thus it should only be enabled in applications where participants are within this area.  But, given the right application - an open workspace for example - the Acoustic Fence proves to be very effective.

An additional feature that should be quite useful is the ability to connect your mobile phone to the Studio via Bluetooth.  We tested this connection and were quite impressed by the ability to use the Studio as a speakerphone.  This capability can also be used to call someone on your mobile phone and add them to a video conference.

Overall, our experience with the Studio has been quite positive.  As the company's first ever audio / video USB peripheral bar - there's a lot of Polycom to be found in this little box.   It delivers - and thus makes it a strong "proof point" in what sort of conferencing devices can result from the Polycom / Plantronics integration. What's most impressive is the inclusion and packaging of these features at a list price of $949.  Our prediction: The Studio will find its way into lots of Microsoft / Zoom / Google and other service-attached rooms.

A full evaluation of the Polycom Studio (including its management-via-wifi capabilities) is planned for Wainhouse Research subscriber access within a few weeks.