The video conference is a weird piece of today’s business world—it’s more convenient and green than travelling for work, and it feels closer than a phone call—but the tech still has its drawbacks.

Connecting and holding a stable connection can be a murky task, and on top of that, the cost adds up fast, especially for a piece of technology that doesn’t feel like a huge leap from doing a hangout or facetime on your smartphone.

How have we been doing it?

Newmind Group has been using Google Hangouts for a while now, but earlier this year we got our hands on Google’s Chromebox for Meetings, and it’s become a staple in our main huddle room.

It’s designed with smaller businesses in mind (up to 15 separate users on the same call), and at around half a dozen employees out of the workspace at any given time, we’ve found it to be a great fit.

At an initial cost of $999 and then $250/year for management and support after your first year, it comes in way ahead of heavier, more complicated video conferencing options, many of which start at double or triple the cost before factoring in the subscription.

What’s in the box?

Chromebox for meetings contents

Intel Core i7 Chromebox

Newmind’s kit came with an Asus, and it’s not your grandaddy’s Chromebox—this is custom spec’d by Google and has a 4th-gen Intel Core i7 processor, so holding many connections isn’t a problem. It also sports an HDMI port, Displayport++, four USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, and 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi.

Logitech C920 Camera

The C920 is a solid little camera, retailing for $99.00 on its own. It supports 720p video conferencing, 1080p recording, Carl Zeiss optical technology with a great light-correction feature (our conference room is usually kept low-light to balance out our the projector. It also features H.264 AVC compression, so camera resolution doesn’t suffer over lower internet connections. Our lighting usually depends on the who’s leading the meeting, but even under dimmer table lamps, our image quality doesn’t suffer.

Jabra Speak 410

The Jabra Speak 410 also retails for around $99.00. It uses a simple USB connection to give you a filtered omnidirectional mic, as well as a cool touch interface around the rim of the speaker. For a small device, it packs a punch as a microphone—remote Newminders noticed a huge jump in our audio quality when we began using the Jabra, as opposed to a smaller microphone in the front of the room.

We have it placed just off-center in our huddle room—a little over 1000 square feet in size—and speaking volume never has to exceed one-on-one conversation volume (though we’re known to get carried away sometimes—Newminders are passionate people).

Remote & accessories

chromebox remote
To save you the need for a wireless keyboard & mouse, it also comes with a custom remote (almost identical to a Boxee Box remote), with some basic call/end/power buttons on the front, and a full keyboard on the back.

Also packaged are a USB extender for the speakerphone, an HDMI to DVI cable, a USB receiver for the remote (to be inserted into the Chromebox). It also comes with a small wall-mount for the Chromebox itself, but we move the device around enough (it’s only 1.3 lbs) that we don’t need it.

Hangouts software

The Chromebox is configured to run Hangouts in Kiosk mode, so all you need to do is turn it on and log into your company Google account. This version of Hangouts is also a little unique in that it integrates with Calendar to select and create events, and it’s all delivered in a clean display with a customizable backdrop image, similar to leaving a Chromecast on idle. There are also tools out there to take callers from 3rd party software, or direct audio over a phone call.

Should you check it out?

With a cap of 15 participants on a Hangout, this obviously isn’t the solution for the largest organizations, but if you’re looking for a low-cost, user-friendly option for a small or medium-sized workplace, we think it’s a powerful solution for the price, especially for companies already running on Google Apps.

And if you’re not ready to make a leap, lower-commitment Hangouts options are also available through Google Apps for Work.

How does your organization tackle working remote?