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Microsoft Previews Whiteboard Support in Teams Rooms Devices

A preview of a new Microsoft Teams Rooms feature will enable organizations to use images of physical whiteboards as a dynamic space for videoconferencing.

Announced this week, the capability is enabled, in part, by a Microsoft Teams Rooms app update that works with the new "Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams" meetings application. Microsoft Teams Rooms devices are built by Microsoft's hardware partners, enabling videoconferencing and whiteboarding communications for organizations.

Under the scenario for using physical whiteboards, a special camera is used to capture an image of the board and what's written on it. This image then gets pasted into the Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams application. The text that was captured from the physical whiteboard is then converted into pixels within the app using Microsoft's "Digital Ink" feature.

Microsoft had demonstrated this capability during a March keynote at the Enterprise Connect event. In the demo, the presenter could continue to write on the physical whiteboard and those text changes would then display for remote viewers. That segment of the talk is shown in this video clip.

Still at Preview
Back in March, the Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams app was described as being at the "commercial preview" stage. Apparently, it's still at that stage.

Microsoft's documentation is a little confusing on that score. It currently describes a "Whiteboard integration in Microsoft Teams meetings," which is "powered by the Whiteboard Web App (Preview)." Microsoft had earlier explained back in March that IT pros have to enable the Whiteboard Web App preview in order to use the Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams app. The steps to enable the Whiteboard Web App Preview are described here.

Microsoft plans to automatically enable the Whiteboard Web App for Office 365 tenants when that app reaches the "general availability" commercial release stage, Microsoft's documentation explained. Timing wasn't described.

The Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams meetings application isn't the same app as the Whiteboard app that works with Microsoft Surface Hub conference room devices. However, Microsoft expects to bring the Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams meetings application to Microsoft Surface Hub devices sometime this year.

Microsoft Surface Hub is the company's own videoconferencing product line with added support for Office applications. Partner-built videoconferencing products are called "Microsoft Teams Rooms" devices (formerly known as "Skype Room Systems"), and they lack Office support.

Bumpy Ride
As smooth as it may seem to use existing physical whiteboards with the Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams meeting application to share communications with others, it's still somewhat of a bumpy ride to get there. End users still have to carry out some manual steps. This aspect was explained by Ilya Bukshteyn, a Microsoft Tech Community employee, in Microsoft's announcement:

Yes at EC [Enterprise Connect] we demoed taking a captured image from the content capture camera and pasting it into the Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams and then converting it to digital ink. This is possible today, but with multiple steps (snip the analog image, start the digital WB, paste the snipped image, convert it to digital ink). We will simplify this to a "one button" process on MTR [Microsoft Teams Rooms] in the future.

Also, it turns out that the ability to capture the image of physical whiteboards for use in the Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams meetings app depends on having a particular kind of camera installed, which Microsoft calls a "Content Camera."

Microsoft lists certified Content Cameras at this page, which presently just shows Logitech's Brio 4K Webcam and C930e Webcam products, although Microsoft's announcement also listed the Crestron Content Camera as being supported.

Content Cameras have to be mounted in a particular way in the conference room, and the physical whiteboards used need to have certain dimensions. Microsoft lists those details in this document.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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