Midrange telepresence systems marry high quality with affordability

The Polycom QDX 6000 and the LifeSize Express 200 deliver a high-quality face-to-face experience at a price any company will find appealing

Plenty of small, geographically dispersed teams within large organizations can benefit from telepresence. The same holds true for small and midsized businesses. However, the technology may seem impractical for these scenarios, due to its notoriously high price.

Whereas higher-end telepresence products do come with large price tag, some vendors also offer alternatives that deliver a similar, if not identical, face-to-face experience -- far more affordably. You won't get all the bells and whistles of a dedicated telepresence suite, but you may find these types of solutions can put a big dent in your travel budget while boosting productivity.

[ Learn more about the lay of the telepresence landscape. | How do these midrange telepresence systems compare to a managed alternative from Cisco? ]

I had a chance to test two affordable telepresence solutions, the Polycom QDX 6000 and the LifeSize Express 200. They both offer small, power-saving desktop hardware, television-like remote controls for simple operation, plus quality audio and video. For the lower price, Polycom's video is standard definition (wide screen), while LifeSize provides true high-definition pictures. On the flip side, Polycom works over marginal Internet connections and lets you connect more audio and video sources -- the main reason we rated it just slightly higher.

Polycom QDX 6000: Best value and performance at low bandwidths

The Polycom QDX 6000 does not deliver high-definition video; that's reserved for the company's pricier HDX Series. Nevertheless, the system's wide-screen, DVD-quality (480p) images look great on large monitors.

Four more attributes make this system enticing: It's easy to set up and use; the $3,000 street price puts several units within buying reach; it's based on industry video standards (H.264, H.263, and H.261), so you can connect with partners that might have other vendors' hardware; and Polycom's own Lost Packet Recovery (LPR) algorithm delivers smooth video over slow or congested connections (as low as 256 Kbps).

I successfully tested a QDX 6000 by dialing in to an identical unit at Polycom (a cross-country hop over a relatively slow cable modem). Setup was simple, yet there are enough video and audio inputs and outputs to accommodate media-heavy meetings.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Value (10.0%)
Setup (10.0%)
Interoperability (20.0%)
Management (20.0%)
Performance (20.0%)
Ease of use (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Polycom QDX 6000 10.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 8.9
LifeSize Express 200 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 8.8
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