Microsoft Readies Improvements to Teams Conferencing Hardware

To better equip offices for meetings in the new post-lockdown, hybrid-work era, Microsoft is introducing increased functionality for Microsoft Teams hardware.

The company announced new peripheral products (cameras and speakers) that work with Microsoft-branded videoconferencing gear, including the Microsoft Surface 85-inch-screen videoconferencing products, built by Microsoft, and the Microsoft Teams Rooms videoconferencing devices, built by Microsoft partners. Both devices support video meetings, voice-over-IP, presence and Microsoft Teams chat functions, and the Surface Hub also has white-boarding and Office applications.

Microsoft hardware partner Neat has joined current partners Jabra, Logitech and Poly in implementing artificial intelligence-enabled cameras to optimize online meetings using Microsoft Teams Rooms devices. Product details about these cameras weren't described, though.

Microsoft also this week announced new "intelligent speakers" for Microsoft Teams Rooms devices made by Epos and Yealink. These first new products, available in preview for Teams Rooms Standard or Premium licensees, include the Epos Capture 5 and the Yealink MSpeech intelligent speakers. These products get sold individually or bundled into Microsoft Teams Rooms on Windows products, but they are just available in U.S. English right now.

The concept behind intelligent speakers is that they can deliver "high quality audio experiences to remote participants." They are "optimized for Cortana voice assistance," as well, enabling the starting and ending of meetings using voice commands.

Microsoft also touted intelligent speakers as enabling "live transcription in a shared environment," with the ability to identify the people speaking within the transcript. This transcription capability makes note taking optional. The Microsoft Graph is used "contextualize" the transcript by defining acronyms and identifying colleagues. These intelligent speakers can identify up to 10 people in a room using its seven-microphone array, the announcement explained.

Microsoft offered an assurance that the voice identification data used with intelligent speakers "will be securely stored in the Office 365 Cloud, and users will retain control of their information, including the ability to delete it at any time." IT departments also can turn off the voice recognition feature.

"Additionally, admins have full control to turn on/off people identification through voice recognition feature across the organization," the announcement stated.

Teams Rooms on Surface Hub Preview
Microsoft is planning to offer Windows Insider for Surface Hub program testers a "new Microsoft Teams Rooms on Surface Hub experience" at the preview stage, starting "next week."

Bringing the Teams Rooms experience to Surface Hub is a somewhat confusing concept because the Surface Hub has more capabilities (such as Office apps and a white-boarding app) than the partner-built Teams Rooms devices. Microsoft seems to just mean that the Surface Hub will be getting better meeting controls.

Here's how Microsoft described it in this announcement on the Microsoft Teams Rooms on Surface Hub experience:

With a new meeting stage, a robust set of meeting controls, and popular features including Together Mode scenes, background noise suppression, chat bubbles, and live reactions, Teams Rooms on Surface Hub enriches collaboration for the hybrid workplace. You can easily access your Microsoft 365 files and confidently present using features like PowerPoint Live in Teams, letting you see slides, notes, and your audience all in one view.

Microsoft is planning to make its Chromium-based Edge browser the default browser with the Teams Rooms on Surface Hub experience. It'll add a management capability for the Teams Rooms on Surface Hub capabilities in the Microsoft Teams Admin Center portal, which is expected to arrive "later this year."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.