Review: TelyHD Business Edition: Run meetings from any HDTV
In the not-so-distant past, fully-featured videoconferencing was merely a pipe dream for small businesses and startups. Services from the likes of Polycom and LifeSize can cost tens of thousands of dollars per month, which is well beyond the budget of most SMBs. Luckily—as Bob Dylan so aptly put it—the times they are a-changin'. Now, offerings such as Google Hangout deliver video chat completely for free. And for companies that need a more fleshed out—and yet still affordable—option, there's the Tely Labs TelyHD, a $499 hardware solution that is a simple as it is feature-packed. (A more basic consumer model is available for $249.)
On the surface, the TelyHD looks like a hefty webcam with a sleek and simple design. The cylindrical unit measures about a foot long and a couple of inches in diameter; it fit right in attached to the top of our 50-inch HDTV. Two grille-covered speakers on either end provide more than adequate volume during calls. The back of the device features an SD card slot, a USB port, an Ethernet port, a Mini HDMI port, and a power input. The box also includes the necessary telyHD remote, a simple affair with a five-way control, a mute button, and an end call key.
As evidenced by the simple design, setting up the telyHD could not be easier. All in all, it took us about 10 minutes to get the unit up and running—no computer required. Simply attach the the power cord to an outlet, connect the HDMI cable to any HD TV, follow the oncreen setup prompts and you're good to go. Although it's not necessary due to the camera's built-in Wi-Fi, we'd also recommend using a direct Ethernet connection if your TV is close enough to your router (details on why below). In addition, the UI was confusing at times, with the main button not always taking us back to the main menu, an inconsistency that was a minor annoyance.
The TelyHD Business Edition includes a whole host of features. Namely, six parties in varying locations can join in on a video call, whereas most competitors only allow between two to four remote participants. That makes it a better solution than the close-up meetings that smaller webcams and consumer conferencing apps enable. And of course—like its consumer-centric brother—the system allows for desktop sharing and document collaboration. It also creates an Internet-connected TV, so you can browse the Web and share information with participants. In addition, it's Skype-certified, so not only will it automatically import all of your contacts, but anyone using a Skype-enabled device can connect with you via your TelyHD. Finally, the system is built on the Android OS foundation, which leaves it open to potential updates and third-party development in the future.
We put the TelyHD to the test by conferencing in three contacts in total. The 720p HD video was apparent, with all participants showing up crisp and clear. One thing to be aware of, though, is your subjects' lighting and distance from the camera , although this is a concern with any videoconferencing units we've used. The one notable issue we ran into was so-so audio with some dropouts when we depended on using the Wi-Fi connection. Switching to Ethernet seemed to solve the problem, and that is recommended.
At the end of the day, the TelyHD Business Edition is a solid solution for SMBs on a limited budget. Of course, it's not going to cost just $500. For one, most offices will require more than one unit. Also, there is a $199 annual subscription fee that goes into effect after the first year. Still, given the ease of use, we think this a reasonable price to pay to keep your business moving.