The battle between unified communications video hardware endpoints and software clients is in full swing across various industries.

However, it’s not an outright war, as video hardware and software are actually two sides of the same coin. Together they give you more value, but it’s up to you to determine which endpoint is right for your environment.

Video Conferencing Hardware vs. Software Based Video

Although the battle blazes across many industries there is definitely a prominent version of this conflict in the video world. Now that mostly every laptop, cell phone, and desktop has a camera, microphone, and speakers included, there are exponentially more video endpoints out there.  In addition, there are now tools like new CODECs, WebRTC, cloud- and virtualized-bridging that make it very easy for any of these new endpoints to participate in a video call the same way that a $150,000 room system does, although they are not as high quality.

For clarity, these tools are all referred to as “software endpoints.” Yes, they have hardware involved by necessity, and yes, they also require some hardware in the infrastructure. But, let’s look at the many benefits to hardware-based endpoints in comparison to software endpoints.

ROUND 1: QUALITY OF EXPERIENCE

Call experience on dedicated video endpoints is going to be better than on its’ counterpart. The classic example is Skype vs a Cisco EX90. Cisco EX90 has a big, HD screen with dedicated HD bandwidth and a HD camera, and the other has several limiting factors like camera, processing power, and screen resolution. It’s just not the same. Round 1 goes to hardware.

ROUND 2: COST

The cost of a dedicated unit is typically pretty high, but they are beginning to get cheaper. You can even buy small room systems (without the screen) for under $1,000.  It would have been ten times the cost a short five years ago. Additionally, with cloud bridging and virtual bridging, you no longer have to buy an expensive multipoint control unit to enable these rooms. Alternatively, software tools aren’t free either. What may seem like a high initial cost for a hardware endpoint could represent just a year or two of software subscription services. Round 2 goes to software.

ROUND 3: RELIABILITY

Hardware endpoints are more reliable because they have more internal resources for managing and increasing the quality of the call. Quality and reliability are closely related in this case. You win round 3 hardware.

ROUND 4: ALTERNATE USES / ROI

Alternate uses are how users can leverage their investments when it comes to investing in enterprise video technology. In the case of a phone, tablet, laptop, or PC with video software loaded, it’s obvious what other benefits you get out of using that machine.  For a hardware endpoint, it may not be as obvious. For starters, a second monitor might help with recording videos while your initial monitor holds the script. Software takes round 4.

ROUND 5: EASE OF SETUP

Physically, software setup is extremely simple – hardware can be a bit tougher, especially with the bigger devices.  Overall, software is as simple as clicking a few times and filling out some initial forms for setup and purchase.  Both are pretty easy, but the edge goes to software. Software barely takes round 5.

ROUND 6: COMPATIBILITY

Can video enablement technologies work well with other video enablement technologies? For instance, how well do Polycom endpoints work with Cisco Call Managers and vice versa?  Typically, they work nicely together, but dedicated hardware systems are less flexible than software systems which are designed to be abstracted away from that layer of operations. Software edges out to win round 6.

AND THE WINNER IS…

In the end, it is clear from this examination that Software endpoints are currently ahead of the game. However, it really depends on how valuable each of these points are to your users.  In some cases, it may be more important to have higher quality and be more reliable. For the industry right now, the goal is to get more people using video, and software endpoints are definitely doing a better job of driving that adoption.

In the future will we see dedicated hardware getting cheaper and small enough that we pivot back to the days with dedicated video attached to our workspaces that aren’t portable? Only time will tell.  For today, the video hardware vs software battle continues.

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