Some Tech Journalists Got To Pretend To Be Business People In Order To Try Out Logitech's New Video Conferencing System Called Rally
The Logitech Rally video conferencing system uses a modular approach to allow you to grow the system as the number of people needed to be in your meetings increases. It was demonstrated at its South African launch in which attendees in three cities all participated in the same conference.
Logitech has launched a new video conferencing system in South Africa called Rally, which it introduced to its partner vendors and the media via a Johannesburg-Durban-Cape Town video conference (that also included a couple of brief pop-ins from other people who I think were lost, if that's even possible with a video conference, or perhaps they were additional participants who couldn't make it to one of the venues).
What makes the Rally system interesting is that it's designed to work in any kind of room - big or small and all kinds of weird (table) shapes - for up to roughly 46 participants. The way this happens is that it's modular - or, specifically, the speakers and microphones are. You start with a small base system that can support up to 10 people but as your conference environment gets bigger you just build a daisy chain of microphones that can be placed after about every third person.
The base system, Rally, has one camera, one wired microphone (called a Mic Pod), and one speaker (called the Rally Speaker), as well as a remote, the Rally Display Hub, the Rally Table Hub, and HDMI, USB conversion, and power cables. There's also a five metre Category 6A
Ethernet cable. (The system supports a CAT6A cable that can be up to 50 metres long.) The hubs have HDMI ports so you can connect TVs or monitors. This base system supports up to 10 seats in a room around a conference table.
Rally Plus comprises the Rally package plus two Mic Pods and two speakers and it works for up to 16 seats at a large conference table. After that, you add Mic Pods to the setup (I'm sad it's not called Rally Plus Plus, to be honest), with each Mic Pod being able to support an additional six seats up to a maximum of 46 seats in the room in the optimal configuration (a U shaped conference table with the system's maximum of seven Mic Pods). You can also add additional Rally Speakers.
Optional accessories include the Rally Mic Pod Hub and the Rally Mounting Kit if you want to set up a more streamlined system with cables out of sight.
Above: This is an example of the video feed from Johannesburg (bear in mind that this is a photograph of a television screen - the actual picture quality was much better). On the left is Eric de Jager, the owner of TechSonic Africa, a Logitech premier partner, giving his presentation.
The camera is particularly good. The quality is up to 4K and the camera adjusts to the light in the room so the picture isn't too dark or light, nor over saturated or under saturated. It also seems to have no problem with different skin tones. The picture is crisp and clear and when you zoom (there's a 15X zoom) the quality stays really good so if someone on the far end of a room is speaking you can zoom in on that person in order for the remote participants to see him or her clearly. The camera can also pan and tilt. You can control all of this through the remote but, from what I understood, the camera also has some "adaptive" ability that will allow it to adjust a little to the room - and the positions of the people in the room - autonomously.
During the conference, which was run through Zoom
, the controllers demonstrated how it's easy to flip between camera views and a document (or video) presentation on a computer or tablet, and we saw that it offers various side-by-side or picture-in-picture options, as well as the ability to set up more than one display device. (I'm not sure of how much of this was Zoom
, which I've never used, and how much was the system.) At one point while a prerecorded video was playing the video started to lag behind the audio but it seemed to come right when the video feed switched back to the live conference.
Finally, there's a really great feature that physically puts it into a downwards "sleeping" position when the system is off so you know that the camera is not spying on you. There's also an LED that indicates whether the video is muted or unmuted.
Above: The Mic Pod in the photograph on the left has been muted (as indicated by the red light). The photograph on the right shows the underside of the Mic Pod, as well as the (what seems to be) proprietary USB cable.
In contrast to the video, the sound is a mixed bag. The system apparently scans the room 150 times a second to make sure that it picks up everything and then reduces reverb and echo, suppresses background noise, and equalises the audio. (There is, of course, some machine-learning technology in there.) I wasn't impressed with what we experienced. The presenters were all in Johannesburg and apparently the room's Mic Pods were quickly switched off due to all the ambient noise interference in the stream so that we could hear the speakers, who all had a handheld microphone, clearly. I know we sat in Cape Town with our room's microphones muted most of the time while we listened to the presenters in Johannesburg.
The audio was (I presume) very compressed and filled with audio artifacts - at some points it sounded a lot like an MP3 encoded at 32 kbps in 1999, which was a surprise considering how good the video was, and I struggled to hear a couple of voices clearly - notably one attendee who had a strong Afrikaans accent, although I don't know whether it was his accent or his position relative to the nearest Mic Pod that was the issue.
Above: Spot the camera and one of the Mic Pods in the conference setup in Cape Town.
Having said that, the system does actually do a good job, most of the time, of picking up voices in the room clearly due to each Mic Pod's 4.5 metre pickup range. Someone on the other corner of the table from me in Cape Town asked a couple of questions and I heard the first one but not the second as he then spoke more softly, yet the people in Johannesburg (and presumably Durban) all heard what he said. Consequently you don't have to scramble for a handheld microphone and you don't need to lean in to a Mic Pod to be heard, you can just talk naturally from your seat.
The sensitivity does, of course, mean that you need to be very careful in certain kinds of meeting situations, and can't misbehave and be snarky, as your local colleagues may not hear you but everyone else will. There's no backhanded whispering with this system. You can
, however, mute each Mic Pod individually with just a simple tap on top - its display light will then go from white (on and recording) to red (muted).
Above: All three conference venues on the TV screen: Cape Town (top left); Johannesburg, which has been zoomed in so that we can see the people at the back of the room while Paul Furmie, the head of Video Collaboration at Logitech Sub-Saharan Africa, talks to the attendees (top right) (compare that to the other photograph of the Johannesburg room further up in this article); and Durban (below). Once again this is a photograph of a television screen so it doesn't accurately capture the quality of the video.
If you're interested in implementing the system it's compatible with Windows 7
and higher, Mac OS 10.10
or later, and Chrome OS
, as well as most conferencing software (Skype
, Google Hangouts
, and so forth) and systems that support a USB camera. There's also a two year limited hardware warranty.
Logitech is being cagey about pricing - if you want to sneak a peek at USA pricing on Amazon.com you'll see it's not cheap - but I'll update this article once I know or you can contact a hardware reseller for more information. (You'll find links to them on the Logitech web site.)
Logitech Rally: Official Site
At brainwavez.org our mission is to publish quality content for the web site and our airwavez channel on YouTube. We research, we fact check, and we revise before publishing. We focus on in depth reporting and are proud that much of what's in the archives is still worth reading years later.
Please support our independent journalism with a tip via Ko-fi
. Every bit helps and is much appreciated.