So what’s available?
If we put Surface Hubs aside, we now have two main categories of Teams meeting room solutions:
- Microsoft Teams Room on Windows
- Microsoft Teams Room on Android
What about Collaboration Bars?
If you’ve come across this term before, make no mistake: these were definitely one thing and were first introduced in March 2020, with Yealink and Poly being the first to offer something in this category:
These were the first Microsoft Teams-based Android devices available, and it made perfect sense to keep them in their own silo at the first release. At the first release, there were a number of differences between Android-based solutions and Windows-based solutions that have been around for a while:
- Collaboration bars only available in all-in-one bar form (hence the name )
- Teams only – no backward compatibility with Skype for Business
- Limited control capabilities – the associated meeting control touch panels (on the first release, more on this later) didn’t look and didn’t feel like an MTR on a Windows touch device
- Only display on the front of the room
- No HDMI input for content sharing
- No support for external cameras
- 720p video only
- No direct guest participation (ZoomWebex meeting participation)
However, it wasn’t long after the initial release that Microsoft decided to simplify the naming of meeting room solutions and bring collaboration bars under the same umbrella as ignite 2020’s Windows-based Teams Rooms systems:
“We’re now simplifying our portfolio of Shared Space Teams devices by bringing collaboration bars into the Teams Rooms product family”
What’s new in Microsoft Teams | Microsoft Ignite 2020 – Microsoft Tech Community
With the collaboration bars joining the Microsoft Teams Room stable, we still had to distinguish between Android and Windows-based solutions, hence MTRoA (Android) and MTRoW (Windows).
Where are we now?
As we have already indicated, at the first release there were a number of features and capabilities that the Android-based solution lacked, which in my opinion made them a non-candidate. For starters, the interface on the tabletop touch controller was not suitable for the intended purpose. If you wanted to join a scheduled meeting, wasn’t that bad, but if you wanted to set up an ad hoc meeting and search for users? There was no keyboard on the console: instead, you’d use the up-down-left-right arrows to select letters from a keyboard that appeared on the front of the room screen (similar to entering a text sequence on your home TV with a remote but harder one) – just not good enough for a business-ready meeting room solution. The single screen was also the only option on release, not such a problem for smaller spaces, but something that wouldn’t wash properly in larger spaces. Finally, the lack of HDMI input was to support content sharing from a laptop, or to integrate a third-party content sharing solution (from organizations like Barco, Crestron, etc.)
The good news is that Microsoft has worked these shortcomings, and at the time of writing, we now have a greatly improved touch console experience in the meeting room (very similar to the Windows-based MTR touchscreen experience), and we now have support for two screens. HDMI content sharing is still on the way, but is scheduled for this month (June 2021), so we hope this is still on track too.
So, compared to where we were just a handful of months ago, Android-based solutions are much more desirable. Here is an up-to-date comparison (at least at the time of writing):
Note that if you want one of the features described above that are highlighted in red, you should be using Windows-based MTR solutions at this time. HDMI shouldn’t be too far away, but if you want to join Zoom or Webex meetings from your Microsoft Teams space system, Windows is the only option today. On the roadmap it has been announced that it is coming to Android, but not yet here.
Another important distinguishing factor between Windows-based MTR solutions and Android is the overall form factor. When it was initially released as Collaboration Bars, the Android-based solution was just that: a bar. The Android computing was built into the device, with no flexibility to use another camera, third-party systems for speakers or microphones, etc. All you had to work with was a bar, suitable only for smaller spaces:
Logitech RoomMate is one of the first modular Android computing solutions to be available, allowing you to deploy an Android-based solution in a larger space and pair it with a range of USB peripherals:
Poly is also working on a unique Android-based solution, with the Poly G7500 series codec soon also certified as a Teams Android device that can be used with separate peripherals:
What’s unique about this? Well, if you’re one of the many organizations that has invested in Poly(com) Group series codecs to support Skype for Business meetings, it gives you an upgrade path: just replace your Group codec with a G7500 and you can get started. The G7500 is backward compatible with Group series cameras and microphones (requires walta to IP converter for microphones), so simply swap the codec and turn your space into a native team space.
Both options should be available soon.
So what should I choose?
When deciding what’s the right solution for your meeting room or collaboration spaces, it’s important to start with your requirements. Before Android devices came on the market, we had a first decision point: traditional space for video conferencing or collaboration space? If the answer was a need for a more traditional video conferencing experience, Microsoft Teams Room solutions (on Windows) would meet these requirements. On the other hand, if collaboration was higher on the list, Surface Hub could be a better alternative.
Adding Android-based Microsoft Teams Room solutions to the mix does mean there’s an additional decision point, and given that we’re not yet on an equal footing between Windows and Android-based approaches, it’s essential to know what your requirements are before making a decision. Use the table above to see if you can do what you need to do on your chosen meeting room platform, and most importantly, talk to a Microsoft partner who understands well what’s on the market and what’s just around the corner – decisions you’re making right now will have far-reaching consequences.
Microsoft’s MTRoA offering is evolving rapidly, and they’re no longer just for small huddle spaces. That said, we’re still waiting for some important features, so for now, I don’t expect Windows-based solutions to get anywhere anytime soon to medium term.