Editor's Note: This review was originally published on Let's Do Video.
Advanced management features and simple user experience let IT Admins deploy and manage huddle rooms at scale.
BlueJeans recently sent me a BlueJeans Rooms kit to put through its paces. The kit is designed to meet the growing need to provide working teams with affordable, flexible, high quality, user-friendly, video conferencing. What once was limited to a few select boardrooms is now being deployed in huddle rooms and other casual meeting spaces in mass numbers. As such, while conducting this review, I was concerned with how my friends in the IT and AV community would be able to manage massive deployments of these kits. Today’s meeting attendees are still not entirely savvy with video and need support. At the same time, having an IT person in each huddle room for each meeting is not an option.
As my interest is in the manageability, I decided to reverse the usual evaluation format. Typically, we would start with the device/system itself, and finish with how it can be managed at scale. In this case, let’s start by looking at the solution from the IT/AV perspective.
Managing Multiple Rooms
The reason I am so focused on management for this evaluation is partially because the set-up and configuration of the BlueJeans solution is a no-brainer and doesn’t require a lot of discussion. The real question I was looking to answer is: “What about the enterprises looking to outfit their huddle rooms on a much larger scale?”
With this in mind, I approached this review for those who will be tasked with managing these deployments. It’s wonderful that installation and configuration are easy, but I don’t want anyone to have to physically walk to dozens (or hundreds) of huddle rooms on a weekly basis to schedule meetings and troubleshoot. I needed to get my hands on the “BlueJeans Command Center” to see exactly how it handles these rooms.
BlueJeans Command Center is a full-featured, enterprise, video management portal. It offers not only the expected graphical status information for your video environment, but also allows for live meeting control to actively solve user issues in real time. Command Center has long been a priority for the BlueJeans team, and a key element of their enterprise-facing services. Not surprisingly, since the introduction of BlueJeans Rooms, the Command Center has been updated to recognize and fully support these systems.
Adding my BlueJeans Room to Command Center took about 10 seconds and can be done as part of initial configuration. You just press a button on the Dolby speakerphone under settings for “Enterprise” setup, and it puts a code on the monitor. I entered that code in Command Center and I was done. My meetings and room data were immediately visible on my dashboard and could be accessed at the individual room level.
Command Center provides much more than a top-level overview of your video environment. In fact, admins can see any BlueJeans Room down to the hardware connectivity level for easy troubleshooting.
The final step was connecting the room to a calendar for easy scheduling. Office365, Exchange, and Google are all available options.
I chose Google, created a new calendar, shared it with a special BlueJeans email address (which feeds into Command Center), and copied the Google Calendar ID into Command Center.
All meetings in that calendar were immediately displayed in Command Center, and on the Dolby speakerphone display itself. If a BlueJeans meeting link is anywhere in the calendar description, the Dolby touchscreen will display a button to join the meeting with one-touch. No special calendar invite formatting is required. It just works.
I was particularly pleased to see how the Command Center provides a list of all BlueJeans Rooms in the environment, with their current status (Available, In Use, Offline), allowing for management of larger deployments. Clicking any room on the list opens a new page in Command Center with a full suite of information. From there, admins can provision, configure, troubleshoot, and manage scheduling. It goes far beyond mere “heartbeat” status and provides true, centralized, comprehensive, system management.
Please note, while it was outside of the scope of this evaluation, the Dolby Conference phone can also be configured and managed via Command Center as a traditional SIP audio conference phone on your existing phone network.
The BlueJeans Rooms Kit
Now that we see it can be managed at scale, let’s take a quick look at the BlueJeans Rooms kit itself. The kit includes everything you need (other than the monitor/screen) to support business-class huddle room video conferencing. The centerpiece of the hardware kit is the Dolby Conference Phone. The BlueJeans/Dolby partnership has been a big success for both parties. The Dolby Conference Phone not only provides audio, but also allows for intuitive, one-touch, meeting control. The kit also includes a Logitech Brio webcam (a PTZ camera upgrade is recommended for larger rooms), and an Intel NuC running the BlueJeans Rooms app on Windows 10.
Set-Up and Configuration
Generally, when I review a solution like this I go through the set-up step by step. In this case, there really is no need to simplify the already simple guide that comes with the kit. There are five cables to connect and it’s very clear where they each go. In other words, you will not need to refer to this article when you install the kit. The cables are even color-coded, so you really can’t go wrong.
There is one other noteworthy aspect of the cabling. The Dolby speakerphone uses a single cable for power and IP. When you consider that this unit acts as microphone, speaker, and control unit to join video meetings, having one cable potentially removes a lot of clutter from the meeting room table.
Configuration was as simple as installation. Once the unit was powered on, a code appeared on my monitor, which I entered on the speakerphone’s display. I was then ready to make my first test call, which you can see in the video below. Note: while the unit can also be configured to function as a standard telephone connected to your enterprise PBX, that was not part of this testing.
The Meeting Experience
While I’ve read many positive reviews of the BlueJeans Rooms meeting experience, I can now say for myself that the pickup and overall caliber of the Dolby speakerphone matches the hype. It should also be noted that Dolby’s noise canceling, and other advanced audio features, are now baked into the BlueJeans meeting software. This means these features are available in every BlueJeans meeting on every endpoint, not just the systems with the physical Dolby speakerphone.
The video itself is the reliable, enterprise quality BlueJeans meeting experience that many video callers are now well familiar with. The difference between the desktop/mobile BlueJeans app and BlueJeans Rooms isn’t the meeting experience, but simply the fact that one is optimized to be used by an individual account holder on his/her personal device, and the other is optimized to be used as a shared resource.
A big part of the success of desktop video is the ability to open an email and click a quick link to a meeting. However, that would be a very unnatural workflow for meeting room video. No one wants to login to a shared appliance with their personal email. The BlueJeans Room supports a more appropriate workflow for a team tool by using the touchscreen on the Dolby speakerphone itself. This makes sense, as the device is likely to be placed on the meeting room table near the attendees. Users can simply join meetings with a single touch by selecting a calendar entry on the Dolby speakerphone’s display, or by entering a meeting code. In either case, no logging in is required.
Once the meeting has started, the speakerphone’s touchscreen will display the obvious and necessary functions for a meeting room business video call.
There is one particular power feature that I must mention. The solution supports wireless screenshare from personal devices. For some reason, I always seem to forget that this heavily desired functionality is a standard element of the BlueJeans Rooms kit. The workflow is very simple with no prior configuration required. You just press the share button on the touch display which gives you a short URL to enter in your web browser. This feature is available regardless of whether you are in a video call, which makes it very handy for any meeting in the room.
At the end of this review, I am satisfied that not only will users appreciate the video experience, but IT/AV teams will not regret a BlueJeans Rooms deployment when it comes time to install, configure, and support these systems. While it is always wonderful to install a product that provides a great experience for our users, that experience will not be consistently great unless IT/AV have the tools to properly manage and support the solutions at scale. BlueJeans appears to have wisely made management at scale as much of a priority as user experience when developing BlueJeans Rooms. The result is a very compelling solution for your working teams’ huddle and ad-hoc video meetings.