I've been looking forward to Roundtable coming out... it's a very interesting type of hybrid between a standard conference speakerphone and a series of web-cams, all tied together by plugging it into a PC and running the new LiveMeeting 2007 client software.
The concept of Roundtable is quite simple really - put it in a room with a round table in the middle, and people who join the meeting online will see a panoramic view of what's going on in the room, with the "active speaker" being identified in software based on where the sound is originating from. Other participants not in the room can be the active speaker too, if they have a webcam attached.
I got my hands on a prototype device the other day to have a play with (so I could figure out how to talk to my customers about it), and gathered a bunch of others in the same room...
We messed about for half an hour or so, and recorded the whole meeting - resulting in a series of files about 2Mb per minute, including the surprisingly high quality video. The first picture above shows me just stretching my arm around the device, and caused great hilarity like some kind of freaky Mr Tickle was sitting in the room.
Mark Deakin (UC product manager in Microsoft UK, and also featured as the active speaker in the picture above (on the left), was trying to emulate "Brother Lee Love" from the Kenny Everett TV show from the 80s...
The quality was very good, and once we start using these things in anger, the novelty of the camera will soon wear off and it'll be useful for real business purposes... :)
I have to say, I was very prepared to be underwhelmed (ie the risk of over-promising and under-delivering seemed on the high side), but instead I was blown away by the Roundtable (even though the device itself could probably benefit from a number of physical improvements...)
I can't wait for them to be deployed around our campus now!
The Roundtable user guide & quick reference card have already been published, and the device should be available through your local Microsoft subsidiary, in the next few months.