On Monday, Lifesize Communications announced Lifesize Desktop software that aims to bring HD video conferencing to the PC at a fraction of the cost of big video conferencing solutions such as Cisco Telepresence. The product is Windows-only and will be available in Q3.

In many ways, this is a “me too” play as Lifesize tries to catch up with its primary rival, Polycom. The Lifesize Desktop software primarily allows workers to connect with Lifesize conference room systems from a PC or laptop. Polycom has already been doing this for several years with its Polycom PVX software.

Lifesize CEO Craig Malloy said:

“Customers have asked for a powerful and easy-to-use desktop video communications system that allows them to extend the investment in their LifeSize Conference, Room, Team or Express systems. With LifeSize Desktop, we’re giving customers the ability to connect everyone within their organization to the rich communications and collaboration experience of a LifeSize enterprise deployment, including mobile users who are often most at risk for becoming disconnected from their co-workers.”

The differentiator for Lifesize is that its desktop software does 720p HD in 16:9 aspect ratio. The puzzling part is that the retail price of the software is $199 per seat, while Polycom PVX retails for $149 per seat. It’s odd because Lifesize is the normally value player in the video conferencing market, with solutions that are  cheaper than not only Polycom but also Tanberg and Cisco.

However, in the desktop video conferencing market, Lifesize’s biggest competitor isn’t any of those three. It’s actually Skype, which offers desktop video calling for free. During 2005-2006, I worked in a separate location than most of my team members and we did a lot of video calls. I used Polycom PVX to connecting to conference rooms Polycom systems and Polycom PVX and Skype for one-on-one calls.

The solution that was the simplest and easiest to use was Skype, and we used it whenever possible. It was the fastest to set up and it had the least amount of trouble with VPNs and firewalls. With a PC, a TV, and a decent conference room camera, we would have gladly replaced our Polycom system with Skype. Aas soon as Skype gets multipoint conferencing and conference room devices, it will be a major blow to the video conferencing market. Until then, solutions like Polycom PVX and Lifesize Desktop are only useful if you already have a significant investment tied up in their confernece room systems.