Blue Jeans Network Bridges Skype, SIP, H.323 for Multipoint Telepresence Solution

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Randy Savicky
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Blue Jeans Network Bridges Skype, SIP, H.323 for Multipoint Telepresence Solution

blue-jeans-network.jpgBlue Jeans Network has been quietly developing a new cloud-based video conferencing and collaboration service that bridges H.323 and SIP end-points, PSTN — and even Skype, with the goal of allowing users to connect everything from high-end video telepresence systems like Tandberg/Cisco and Lifesize to web cams running Skype to desktop IP videophones from Polycom, Grandstream, Cisco, and others. This solves a major problem with video conferencing and telepresence since interoperability, while it has improved, still doesn't take into account legacy H.323 end-points or users that only have inexpensive webcams. Blue Jeans Network plans to support Google and Microsoft Lync as well. Their cloud-based service handles the transcoding of audio and video codecs as well as manages the meeting IDs, PINs, etc. The web portal also grants moderators the ability to mute individual participants, all participants, as well as turn off their video.

The product is currently in beta, but sound so cool I decided I had to take it for a spin. First off, you can either schedule a meeting, or create an instant ad-hoc meeting from the web portal. Here's a look at the schedule meeting UI:
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During the creation of the meeting you can invite others to join by entering their email address. After you've already created the ad-hoc or scheduled meeting you can still invite participants after the fact. From the web portal you can copy/paste the invite info and send it manually via email, IM, etc.

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You'll notice in the screenshot below that it support's Skype's HD SILK audio codec, which means a high-def audio experience:
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Also in this screenshot (above) you'll notice the three Skype participants plus one PSTN participant. From here you can mute individuals or everyone, as well as remove someone from the conference. You can also lock/unlock a meeting. The 'Layouts' tab lets you customize how the video appears. You can set it so that the Active Speaker is automatically made to fill the entire video window or go with the Brady Bunch style-layouts, which include Active Presence and Constance Presence.

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The three Skype video participants mentioned above are actually two Windows Skype clients and one iPhone Skype client. Yes, that's right, this product supports any Skype video endpoint, including Skype apps that run on the Apple iOS operating system, Android, Nokia, etc. This is a huge feature since it bridges any mobile device into an enterprise-class video telepresence system. Of course, any mobile device can call into the meeting room for audio only, but the ability to participate via the mobile phone's camera and see other people is a nice benefit.

In fact, you can leverage anything the end-point can transmit. For  instance, in Skype you can share your screen, which will then be shown to multiple participants. Similarly, if your telepresence device supports whiteboarding, that too can be shared.

It's worth mentioning that for PSTN participants it doesn't display anything in the video conference indicating a PSTN individual is participating. Although, when the PSTN person speaks you do see a white outline diagram of a head and animated waves indicating the person is speaking. It also shows the CallerID number at the bottom of the head diagram, which is helpful. This is also true of any other non-video participant. Thus, a Skype participant with no video camera that talks will display the head diagram with the Skype username displayed instead of CallerID. You can also see the full list of participants in the web portal.

Conclusion
This is an impressive cloud-based multipoint video telepresence that solves many of the interoperability issues while bringing mobile devices into the fold. Once they add Microsoft Lync support (RTAudio & RTVideo codecs support?), they'll have support for another major videoconferencing platform, which will make it even more impressive. The audio and video quality was quite good during my tests.

As for the name Blue Jeans Network, I can only surmise the goal is to completely negate the need to put on the dressy 'monkey suit' to meet with people in-person and instead just wear your casual blue jeans from the comfort of your office. As a member of the Anti-Monkey Suit Anonymous club, I applaud their efforts!

They haven't launched yet, and no word on pricing, but you can register for the beta.


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