Poly Studio X50 - Radically Simple Video Bar
The X-50 sets a new standard for collaboration endpoints
A review by Michael J. Levesque
CEO, Resolve Collaboration Services.
Back in late December 2020 I gave myself a gift in the form of new Poly X-50. However not being in the office due to COVID-19 prevented me from really getting my hands on it and taking it for a test drive. This week I finally got the chance to crack open the box and see what the Poly X-50 is all about. As per Poly: “The Poly Studio X50 all-in-one video bar is radically simple to use with support for leading cloud video services built right in”. The X-50 is geared towards to small and mid-sized huddle and collaboration spaces
After really putting it through its paces I can honestly say, I am loving this unit! I tested the X-50 in Poly mode, Teams mode and Device Mode. Below are my 8 favourite things about the X-50 as well as some of my least favourite.
At first glance, this is a nice-looking unit. It is sleek with a modern aesthetic with soft curved edges and fabric front face. Given its unobtrusive design it would fit in well in pretty much any environment. Compared to the blocky hard-edged design of the Studio USB, the X-50 is a beauty!
Poly has always delivered top quality audio.
I remember attending a Polycom tech summit in Austin TX years ago and sitting in on a discussion from the audio engineering guru’s who spoke about the scientific concepts around what is now know today as NoiseBlock, and Acoustic Fence. Seeing these theoretical discussions come to life in this generation of products is pretty cool.
I was most impressed by the Acoustic Fence sensitivity capability. You can choose a “beam size” from 1 to 10 to adjust the span of the acoustic fence field. With the unit setup in my office and sensitivity set to 1, it created a perfect audio bubble the width of my desk. The ultimate test is the ancient paper shredder that sits beside my desk and has an operating volume similar to a jet taking off. With the shredder running full out the acoustic fence delivered on its promise and none of the audio from my shredder sitting outside the fence could be heard by the far end.
I think Device Mode is ONE OF THE SMARTEST NEW FEATURES that Poly has introduced to their product line. For years customers would ask why can’t we do this, and the answer was always why would you want to? Well Poly finally listened, and Device Mode makes the ROI on these units incredible. We do not live in a world of video uniformity. Employees flip from video platform to video platform between meetings. Device mode allows users to take advantage of all the superior Poly audio and video capabilities on any video platform. The fact that features like Speaker Tracking, and NoiseBlock aren’t dependent on the video platform is an incredible upside to the X-50.
NATIVE COMPATIBILITY SUPPORT
The X-50 offers a wide assortment of native video platform options. On the 3.3.1 software release it supports 8 different options
8×8 Meeting Rooms
Ring Central Rooms
I personally tested Poly, Microsoft Teams and Device Mode. The fact that this one piece of hardware is not locked into any one platform is amazing. However, this feature is also my LEAST favourite which I’ll explain in my least favourite features below.
TC8 Touch Panel
The TC8 touch panel is sleek beast
I found it to be the most responsive and natural to touch and swipe than any other touch panel Poly has ever produced. With the X-50 in Poly mode the TC8 becomes a useful addition to the boardroom table. It is packed with features and capabilities and are intuitive and easy to find…unless you’re running in Teams mode…more about that in my least favourites section below.
Pairing the TC8
As much as I love the TC8 and its functionality. I loved the simplicity of the setup and pairing even more. It was as close to the definition of plug and play as you can get. Granted we do have a well-established network with PoE and straight forward LAN design but plugging the X-50 into one port and the TC8 into another and having them find each other on their own was as seamless as it can get.
Signing to Teams
Sign in From Another Device option
I have a long email address and an equally complicated password. Trying to type in all those characters via the TC8 would be a nightmare. I absolutely loved the Sign in From Another Device option on the X-50 that allowed me to enter a code on a Microsoft activation website from my desktop computer and enter my credentials from my keyboard. A brilliant time and frustration saver…except for the frustrating part noted in my least favourites….
In-depth technical data captured
I was surprised by the in-depth technical data captured in O365 for the X-50. It was automatically recognized as a Collaboration Bar in O365 Teams Admin site and the drill down on call data, quality and usage was incredible. There was literally nothing I had to do to enable this, it was all just there on its own.
LEAST FAVOURITE FEATURES
As much as I loved the features notes above on the X-50, there were some shortcomings. Certainly not enough to diminish the overall value of the unit, but a few annoyances that hopefully Poly can address in future software releases.
Teams Mode Limitations
Once setup and integrated into Teams the X-50 is an excellent collaboration bar. However, there are a few limitations and hiccups along the way that I feel diminish the overall excellence of this system. These are all of the Teams related issues and irritations that ran into.
- As I noted in my #7 favourite thing was the ability to sign in the unit from another device, which is great except I originally tried to use my personal account with has MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) and I ended up in an endless loop of login screens without any sort of indication as to why. Once I switched to a different account without MFA the unit authenticated right away.
- O365 licensing. I got the licensing wrong at first. So even though the account had a valid Teams account it somehow was not valid for video. The X-50 acted liked everything was perfectly okay until you joined a Teams meeting, even to the point of previewing your camera and then once you were in the meeting no video was transmitted. It took several calls and a ticket with support to finally pinpoint the issue.
- No device mode in Teams Mode. As I said before Device Mode is the icing on the cake for the X-50, sadly when you are in native Teams Mode, there is no Device Mode. If you’re in in Teams Mode then you are ALL IN!
- Lastly, in Teams mode the TC8 is nothing more than a glorified mute button. The TC8 is great in Poly mode, in Teams mode it because a dumbed down touch panel with very rudimentary volume and camera controls. It somehow hardly seems worth it and, in my opinion, doesn’t add much value.
Tracking Against Backlight
I have a huge bright window behind my desk. Backlight is nothing new to video endpoints and Poly has done an admirable job of compensating for backlight on many of their systems, however the speaker tracking really struggled in this environment. It took significantly longer to track than if I closed my blinds to minimize the backlight.
Switching Native Compatibility Modes
My #3 favourite feature was the on-board native support for the multitude of video platforms that are commonly used. However, switching the device from one platform to another must be the weakest point of the X-50. It not only requires a reboot, but an entire factory reset right down to setting the unit back to its default password and time zone! I may want to switch from Zoom to Teams, but I certainly didn’t change my time zone when I did! If Poly can address this and come up with a way to swap native modes on the fly they’ll be absolutely unstoppable.
The X-50 sets a new standard for collaboration endpoints from Poly and has a lot going for it. The few minor annoyances certainly would not be enough to steer me away from this unit. I’ll definitely re-visit the X-50 in future posts with future software releases to see how Poly addresses the short comings and see what new features they pack in.
Next up be sure to checkout my review of the new Sync20. My review of the X-50 has been powered by my music playlist cleanly and crisply being played on my Sync 20.