Chrome's next target: Your meeting room

Google aims its Chrome cannon at your staid conference room with Chromebox for Meetings, an attempt to upend business-grade teleconferencing systems.

Chromebox for Meetings, monitor not included. Google

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Armed with a plethora of hardware weapons, Google wants to take over meeting room teleconferencing systems with a low-cost Chromebox for Meetings.

Announced on Thursday, the new system provides what Google calls a compelling suite of hardware and software tools to get more businesses to buy into video-conference calls. The system retails for $999 per meeting room, includes a new Core i7-powered Chromebox, remote control, microphone-speaker combo, and high-definition Webcam, and is available immediately in the US.

"We want to redo the meeting room," Caesar Sengupta, the vice president of product management for Chromebooks, told a press gathering at Google's headquarters.

He said that the system combines new hardware and new ways of using existing Google services to create a low-priced alternative to complicated, expensive teleconferencing systems. From low-quality video streams, to difficulties identifying other people on your conference call, Sengupta enthusiastically described how Chromebox for Meetings will change the workplace -- if businesses flock to it.

The initial $999 fee includes service for one year. Thereafter, Chromebox for Meetings will cost $250 per year.

Sengupta said the reason that Google developed the Chromebox for Business was utilitarian. The company needed to solve its own teleconferencing problems.

He described teleconferencing systems as "too complicated for most regular users," and said that the problems start with trying to get somebody to join in remotely.

"Even I can't remember 20-digit numbers," he said. He wasn't joking.

Other basic teleconferencing problems include not knowing if the conference attendees are paying attention, and not being able to see everyone. "You have no idea who's on the call. You hear "beep beep" and you have no idea whether somebody just left the call, or joined in," he said.

Chromebox for Meetings solves those problems, he said, while improving video quality and integrating with existing scheduling. Instead of someone having to manually post a sheet of paper on the door of the meeting room, Chromebox for Meetings can be set to perpetually display the room's reservation calendar.

Based in Google services like Hangouts, Chromebox for Meetings includes features like highlighting the video of the person speaking at the time, so its easier to tell who's speaking on crowded calls. You can also share your screen when logged into a meeting at g.co/present, although site won't work unless connected to a Chromebox for Meetings conference. Up to 15 people can join a Chromebox for Meetings conference call at the same time.

Google has partnered with Vidyo to enable Chromebox for Meetings to connect to existing teleconferencing systems, and UberConference for people who want to connect to the conference by phone.

The new Chromebox for Meetings will cost $999 per set for the first year, and $250 per set per year thereafter, says Caesar Sengupta, Google's Chromebook chief at the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters on Feb. 6, 2014. Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Businesses need not worry about security, Sengupta said. The high-powered Google Hangouts streams that Chromebox for Meetings use are encrypted end-to-end with the industry-standard STRP. He added that Google does not store any of the video or audio streams from these Hangouts.

Google has developed hardware specifically for Chromebox for Meetings. The Chromeboxes themselves have 4th-generation Core i7 processors to facilitate high-quality video streams, and are made by Asus, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard. They come with HDMI and DisplayPort++, four USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n.

The included high-definition Webcam can handle 1080p up to 1920x1080 pixels, with a Carl Zeiss lens and automatic low-light correction. The microphone-speaker has built-in DSP for better speech clarity, noise filters, and mute, call, and end buttons. The remote control is radio-frequency based, so line-of-sight isn't needed, and has a full QWERTY keyboard on the back.

Google plans to offer Chromebox for Meetings to Australia, Japan, New Zealand, France, the United Kingdom, and Spain later this year.

Update at 3:40 p.m. PT with encryption details.

Update at 3:15 p.m. PT to clarify that the screen-sharing link won't work unless in a Chromebox for Meetings conference.

Update at 11:35 a.m. PT with more details.

 

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