Bose Videobar VB-S review: A great videobar with jarring caveats
A video conferencing bar that's excellent in many ways, but could have been so much more
The Bose Videobar VB-S is the latest entry in the audio company's foray into video conferencing. It follows the VB-1 which we reviewed last year. It's a more compact version aimed at huddle rooms and smaller meeting spaces up to 3x3m, but offers many of the features of its predecessor. Following the same design language, it's a graphic box which can tuck neatly under a television, perched on a table or wall-mounted using the included bracket - it also has a standard thread for use with a tripod.
Measuring 267 x 48 x 87 mm and weighing in at 1kg, without mounts and power supply, it still manages to boast four far-field beamforming directional microphones, a 4K video camera with sliding cover and a 15w Bose mono speaker. On the rear are a connection for the power supply and a single USB-C for connecting to a computer.
With Wi-Fi 802.11ac (but no Ethernet port) and Bluetooth 4.2 (but no audio jack) aboard, the potential for a flexible standalone video-conferencing suite is huge – however, here's where the problems start. The Bluetooth connection allows the speaker to play music or presentations, but it also lets the user set up a bridge for active UC calls. While the Wi-Fi functionality is primarily provided to allow for remote configuration and management by administrators.
Given the near £900 level of investment provided, we were disappointed to find that, like its predecessor, the VB-S has no in-built functionality. Indeed, the user guide actually suggests leaving the 3m USB-C cable draped on a table for easy access to meeting holders to connect their computer. When Meta will sell you a Portal TV device including direct access to most of the main conferencing services for under £100 – we find it quite surprising that the VB-S doesn't even offer an HDMI port for connection to a TV. Although the USB-C port does include Displaylink, that assumes that your TV has it, and the vast majority of huddle room TVs simply don't. In short, this is essentially a £900 webcam – albeit a very high-end one.
Bose boasts of its certification with various platforms and teleconferencing brands, but in reality, it's platform agnostic because it's a mere laptop peripheral. That's not to say it performs badly, as we'll discuss, but to add Wi-Fi and only use it as a means to manage it from another room seems a huge missed opportunity. The inclusion of a remote control, therefore, seems superfluous, given that the meeting organiser will be sitting in front of their laptop already.
Putting that to one side and accepting the VB-S for what it is, there's no doubt that it's an excellent device in terms of performance. Where it does excel is in terms of sound quality – as you'd expect from a company better known for its headphones and home audio. The beamforming microphones provide clear, balanced audio from every direction, while suppressing both ambient noise and the output from the speaker, ensuring there's no feedback. The speaker gives rich, warm, full spectrum sound, but again, given the inclusion of an option to use it as a Bluetooth audio speaker, we're not sure why Bose didn't opt for stereo speakers, especially at this price point.
The really clever stuff comes from the camera, which provides an excellent picture to remote users, and thanks to the microphone array, can be set to focus in on the current speaker with almost no delay, across a 123 degree field-of-view on the diagonal. Aspects of the picture, such as white balance and hue are controlled automatically, but these can be overridden using the software suite.
That software suite consists of two products: Bose Work Management, which gives remote access to make administrative changes to an entire fleet of Bose products, and Bose Work Configuration: available for Windows, MacOS and Android – with the Android app offering support for Google Chromebooks. The Bose Work app was reasonably easy to set up, but it's also another app to have open on the host laptop. Perhaps a solution would be to use a dedicated computer in each meeting room, but when you've already spent £900 on a device, this shouldn't be necessary.
All in all, we're left in a quandary by the VB-S. Bose positions it as a small-room version of its predecessor, but in many ways it's actually a step backwards, retailing for only £100 less. The difficulty in offering a verdict, however, is there's nothing to fault in its specification or performance either. The issue is functionality. We can see there is an argument that by being dependent on a laptop, there's no question of vendor lock-in with your conferencing software – but this feels more of a benefit for Bose than for the potential customer. Given the price tag, we would have expected an all-in-one device with conferencing software on-board and a direct connection for a display.
We're left in the unusual position of praising a device for being very good at what it does, but questioning so much of what it doesn't yet could have – indeed, what other devices such as the Maxhub UC S10 does for £300 less. All-in-all, it's hard to recommend the VB-S because it feels like a new take on yesterday's expectations; a real-world product designed without any real-world thought for who'd be using it.
The recent pandemic has changed the way we work, and yet this is a device designed to meet pre-pandemic expectations. It's impractically cumbersome for the modern meeting room, overpowered for a home-worker and taunts specifications of connectivity that remind you of all the things it could have been and isn't.
For the use cases it's designed for, you'd be able to buy a pair of Bose stereo Bluetooth speakers and a cheap monitor and still have change for a new TV to go on the wall – and with that array, you wouldn't need to connect a laptop to anything.
Bose Videobar VB-S specifications
IT best practices for accelerating the journey to carbon neutrality
Considerations and pragmatic solutions for IT executives driving sustainable ITFree Download
The Total Economic Impact™ of IBM Spectrum Virtualize
Cost savings and business benefits enabled by storage built with IBMSpectrum VirtualizeFree download
Using application migration and modernisation to supercharge business agility and resiliency
Modernisation can propel your digital transformation to the next generationFree Download
The strategic CFO
Why finance transformation propels business valueFree Download