Two of the biggest impediments to videoconferencing are a lack of standards to make multi-screen telepresence systems from competing manufacturers work together, and the amount of bandwidth the technology chews up. Standards bodies are working on both problems.

Led by Stephen Botzko, Polycom Inc.’s director of standardization and technology, the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) new telepresence committee will try to unknot the proprietary standards that have been crippling high-end systems.

As Botzko explains, single-screen videoconferencing largely has no interoperability problems, but telepresence works with multiple streams and there’s no standard way of knowing how they relate to each other – a speaker on the left screen of one maker’s system may not know how to keep the person on the left of it’s screens, for example.

That gets even more complicated when screens aren’t only at the front of a room.

“It will be a bit of a challenge when the group meets [Nov. 29] to figure out what they think are the highest priority things to do,” Botzko admits.

Don’t expect recommendations before 2012.

Also, a number of manufactures have created the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum to create testing standards for certifying interoperability of UC applications. While it is working on a number of scenarios, for immersive telepresence it will wait for the ITU committee’s report.

Meanwhile, a joint ITU-ISO/IEC committee, led by Gary Sullivan, Microsoft Corp.’s video and image technology architect, is working on creating the next generation of the H.264 video compression standard. Dubbed HEVC for High Efficiency Video Coding, Sullivan hopes it will achieve a 50 per cent increase in compression than the current standard, which he believes will help spread the corporate adoption of videoconferencing.

The committee is dealing with 27 proposals from manufacturers and carriers around the world, but Sullivan says they are “remarkably similar.” The committee is free to pick the best pieces from the approaches.

Look for the new standard in either 2012 or 2013.