Review: LifeSize Brings High-Definition Enterprise Videoconferencing to a Meeting Room Near You

The LifeSize Room is an affordable, simple-to-set-up videoconferencing system with HD video resolution and super wideband audio. In our test drive, its video and sound quality were outstanding, but minor issues hindered the overall experience.

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Ready for Your Close-Up

LifeSize Room's video quality is beautiful and crisp, especially if your network has at least 1Mbps of bandwidth; the videoconferencing system supports video bandwidth from 128Kbps to 5Mbps. The system provides high-definition resolution (1280 by 720 at 30 frames per second) at 1Mbps, standard DVD quality at 512Kbps and cable television quality at 384Kbps, according to LifeSize. Traditional videoconferencing offers 352 pixels by 288 lines.

If you're using an HD display, LifeSize Room offers an aspect ratio of 16 by 9, compared to a standard television's normal aspect ratio of 4 by 3—up to 40 percent more viewing area. The HD camera has a widescreen zoom lens with a 70 degree field of view. Users can maneuver the camera on their end as well as shift the other videoconference participants' cameras.

In a few instances I experienced a few seconds of spotty video, but overall the video quality was very impressive.

LifeSize HD video camera
LifeSize HD Camera

As part of my review process, I spoke with a couple of LifeSize customers, including Lev Gonick, CIO of Cleveland, Ohio's Case Western Reserve University. Gonick has been videoconferencing for more than a decade. He began using LifeSize in classrooms and offices two years ago, both to facilitate learning between students and instructors and to connect with businesspeople. He calls LifeSize Room's video quality "drop dead gorgeous," and told me a story of how two potential university donors who'd requested a demo of the videoconferencing system lost their lunches after viewing a medical procedure via LifeSize Room.

Another LifeSize Room strength is its easy setup process. The system was delivered in a large crate. The only instructions were on an 11-inch square of cardboard, with a diagram of the rear of the LifeSize codec on one side and the LifeSize Phone on back. The company calls LifeSize Room a "plug and play system," and it's not kidding; I set it up using nothing more than the cardboard directions in an hour. If you've ever connected an audio or video component to an HD television, you'll have no problem getting LifeSize up and running—once firewall issues are resolved.

More on Videoconferencing

See the sidebar,

"Seven Quick Tips for Videoconferencing Beginners"

for more on HD videoconferencing and your firewall.

LifeSize Room's voice quality is also a strong point. LifeSize Phone includes 16 internal, "always on" microphones that, the company says, pick up sound from even the far corners of large rooms. We only used the system in a small conference room. Gonick praised the system's ability to not only pick up voices from far away but also to make those voices sound on par with the ones closer to the phone. It's also designed to cut down on potential radio frequency interference that can be caused by nearby cell phones or smartphones—a.k.a. the dreaded BlackBerry buzz. External speakers or speakers built into the display are set by default to output sound.

The codec is the largest component—besides your monitor—and it stands 19 inches tall, 8 inches from front to back, with a width of roughly 2 inches. The circular LifeSize Phone has a diameter of less than 1 foot and stands roughly 1.6 inches tall.

LifeSize Room is compliant with H.264, H.263 and H.239 video coding standards, and can connect to any H.323 or SIP compatible video system, according to LifeSize. We easily connected to units from Polycom and Tandberg.

It's also easy to share presentations or multimedia by connecting a PC to the codec. You can split your display's screen to show both presentations and videoconferencing participants, or connect another monitor to LifeSize Room and use one for participants and one for data sharing.

Perhaps the most attractive thing about LifeSize Room is its price tag. While the high-end HD videoconferencing systems cost from $100,000 to $500,000, the version of LifeSize Room that I tested retails for $11,999. You do need to add the price of an HD monitor or projector to the overall cost of LifeSize Room, as it doesn't come with one. Depending on the size and type of display you choose, this could add on a couple thousand dollars.

Finally, LifeSize Room is as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional. In particular, the LifeSize Phone is beautifully designed. It's made of a dark-blue, reflective plastic with one central speaker on top and microphones placed around the phone's circumference. A 240-by-64 LCD display shows connection status and your IP address. Four sets of tiny lights evenly spaced out around the phone's outer edge light up to signify various functions, making the phone look like it could hover over a secluded desert, perhaps in New Mexico. The entire system is quite beautiful and fits well in a corporate setting.

LifeSize Room has a lot to like, but we also found some faults.

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