Have you picked a side yet? The eternal battle between unified communications video hardware endpoints and software clients is clearly raging right now – as it is across most technology industries.

However, video hardware and software are two sides of the same coin, the Yin and the Yang, the strawberry and chocolate in Neapolitan ice cream, the James Franco and the Seth Rogen in any number of comedies. Together they give you more value, but you have to choose wisely which endpoint is right for any given situation.

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 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 not as high quality).

Now, to be clear, these are all referred to as “software endpoints.” Yes, they have hardware involved by necessity, and yes, they require some hardware in the infrastructure as well. To be fair, let’s look at the many benefits to hardware-based endpoints in comparison to software.


Call experience on dedicated video endpoints is going to be better, period. The classic example is Skype vs a Cisco EX90. One 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. Point: Hardware


The cost of a dedicated unit can be pretty high, but they’re getting much cheaper. You can even buy small room systems (without the screen) for under $1,000.  It would have been ten times that just 5 years ago.  In addition, with cloud bridging and virtual bridging, you no longer have to buy an expensive multipoint control unit to enable these rooms. Software tools aren’t free either.What may seem like high initial cost for a hardware endpoint could represent just a year or two of software subscription services. Point: Software


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. Point: Hardware


Alternate uses are measurements of the “what else can I get” when it comes to investing in enterprise video. In the case of a phone, tablet, laptop, or PC with video software loaded, it is pretty obvious what else you can do with that machine.  For a hardware endpoint, it is not as obvious.  Mine holds a pretty good amount of sticky notes, functions well as a second monitor, and has helped me record videos for product training in the past. Point: Software


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. Point: Software


In this case I’m talking about the ability of the video enablement technologies to work well with other video enablement technologies.  For instance, how well do Polycom endpoints work with Cisco Call Managers and vice versa?  They usually work pretty well, but dedicated hardware systems are a little bit less flexible than software systems which are designed to be abstracted away from that layer of operations. Point: Software


In the end, it is clear from this examination that Software endpoints is currently ahead of the game.But, 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.

Who knows, in the future the dedicated hardware might get cheap and small enough that we pivot back to the days with dedicated video attached to our workspaces that aren’t portable. For today, the video hardware vs software battle continues. According to my assessment – software will be the last man standing. Agree or disagree? Leave me a comment.

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