Google has rolled out a new videoconferencing solution called Chromebox for Meetings . For $999 per meeting room, Google is offering the hardware you need to get started with a lightweight, simple, Google+ Hangouts-powered solution. It's backed by Google's cloud services, integrates with Google Calendar, and is designed to be the antidote to clunky, difficult-to-manage teleprescence systems. Think of it as a Chromecast  for business.
In a small presentation to the press, Google VP of Product Management for Chromebooks Caesar Sengupta laid out the vision for the product. Built around an ASUS i7 Chromebox, the product comes with a remote, webcam, and a combined microphone and speaker unit. Setting it up is similar to setting up a Chromecast, says Sengupta. Turn it on, go through a simple wizard, and you're off to the races.
When no meeting is going on, the interface looks a little bit like the default idle screen of the consumer Chromecast product, but with a calendar widget that shows the next time the system is on the schedule to be used.
A click of the remote starts the meeting, which looks much like an optimized, full-screen version of the stock Google+ Hangouts experience. Getting other users onto the Chromebox for Meetings, um, meeting is a matter of clicking the link. Another link lets any user take over with screensharing. In a demo, Googlers showed how it worked across platforms, from Android and Chromebooks to traditional desktops. That link works for anybody with a Google account (and who doesn't have a Google account?), simplifying the process of bringing outsiders, like customers, partners, or even interviewees, in on remote meetings.
"This whole platform is based around the cloud, just like Chrome or Google Apps," says Sengupta.
Chromebox for Meetings has some neat, enterprise-only features beyond the core Hangouts product. Notably, an integration with Google Calendar means that it can automatically append a meeting link to calendar invitations. It also has a cool little feature where it'll warn you if you've been talking while still on mute. A meeting timer aims to keep participants honest and aware of time constraints. From the management side, all the Chromeboxes for meetings in the enterprise can be handled from a single console.
And for bonus enterprise cachet, Google today also announced a partnership with Vidyo  that enables the bridging of Google Hangouts with the popular enterprise telepresence platform, and a separate deal with UberConference  lets users call in via phone. But it's obvious that the focus is on bringing Google+ Hangouts to the enterprise.
"Imagine what this could do to your culture," Sengupta says.
I can speak to my own experience here. I recently worked at a startup that placed a lot of emphasis on using teleconferencing to bridge employees and executives working out of two offices -- one in Silicon Valley, one in Seattle -- and I can speak to the value of teleconferencing as a vital cultural bridge. I also know that it's a real pain in the posterior to actually use these systems. Between juggling dial-ins and patches on patches on patches whenever you have to dial in (and heaven help you if you want to watch video from a phone), it's not always a great experience.
In that light, Chromebox for Meetings has the potential to fill a niche. $999 for the hardware setup and the first year of services ($250/year thereafter) seems a little steep and may scare away smaller businesses that don't know any better, but compared to the price and complexity of similar enterprise offerings, it may be worth a look. The fact that it's built to work with Hangouts, a consumer app that many users already have on their phones, may already be enough of a differentiator.