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Polycom this week unveiled tighter integration of its video conferencing systems with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Exchange e-mail server, and has also introduced a new 42-inch all-in-one HD video conferencing solution.

The moves come as Polycom has sharpened its focus on tighter integration with other vendor partners for video conferencing and unified communications to compete against rivals Cisco/Tandberg and Logitech/LifeSize. Cisco acquired video conferencing player Tandberg, and Logitech acquired video conferencing upstart LifeSize, both late last year.

Polycom’s recent announcement regarding Microsoft integration follows other similar announcement with companies including BT and Siemens.

Polycom also recently announced updates and improvements to its channel partner program.

Polycom’s newly announced Microsoft integration enables “presence-based contact capabilities”—users can see if other users are online and can click on their contact information to chat, place a voice call or place a video call.

Polycom’s expanded Microsoft integration also includes a video scheduling solution for Microsoft Exchange and Outlook. Now not only can users schedule video meetings, but they can also schedule the resources—video conference rooms and equipment—to facilitate those meetings.

Polycom created the tighter integration by creating an embedded software Microsoft Exchange client for its HD video conferencing codec device. The client can be deployed to Polycom’s existing HDX video conferencing systems and is preinstalled on new HDX systems, according to Laura Shay, director of product marketing at Polycom.

The integration essentially makes video conferencing part of Microsoft Exchange and Outlook’s workflow.

Polycom is also adding support for the ICE protocol, which enables companies to federate each other’s “presence”—enabling workers at one company to “see” if workers from the other company are online and available for chat or a phone call or video conference.

Polycom is also adding the ITU-T H.264 protocol, which enables HD-quality video in half the bandwidth. The new protocol makes HD video a possibility for companies that communicate with workers in home offices, doctors’ offices and rural physicians, and others who may be using lower-bandwidth connections and video conferencing over the public Internet.

“It also, in essence, cuts bandwidth costs in half,” Shay said. “You don’t have to choose that protocol. If both parties have it available, it’s automatically going to engage that protocol.”

Polycom’s new integrations will be available in Q2, according to Polycom.

Polycom is also introducing the HDX 6000, an all-in-one video conferencing package that includes the codec and HD camera for $5,000, making the device affordable for small businesses.

The price point goes against the value-focused market for HD video conferencing initially addressed by startup LifeSize in offerings that did not include the display.

Shay says Polycom’s training for the channel will be updated to ensure that partners know how to sell and implement the solutions.

“We are really committed to making sure the channels are training and supported and comfortable with what could be a very complex offering,” Shay told Channel Insider.