It’s pretty tough to get excited about videoconferencing. After all, technology enabling face-to-face meetings to occur without the participants actually being in the same room has been around for years and it’s hard to argue it has transformed many companies. Business travel is still booming and hotel chains are still adding more rooms.
But both Cisco and Hewlett-Packard believe they can make videoconferencing more attractive to business customers. Separately, the firms recently unveiled high-end products designed to significantly improve the videoconferencing experience. Gone are the grainy images, stuttering video feeds and echo-heavy sound systems of the past. They’ve been replaced by high-definition, dedicated displays, smooth, bandwidth-heavy connections and accurate sound systems.
HP’s Halo telepresence system involves specially designed studio rooms outfitted with high-definition displays and massive 45Mbps connections. The concept was born out of a collaboration with movie studio Dreamworks.
Cisco’s TelePresence 3000 and 1000 systems are no less ambitious. Much of the gear for the Cisco systems was custom-built, including the ultra high definition 1080p displays, the IP video cameras and even the furniture — a wooden half-elipse table that gives the illusion of connecting to another wooden half-elipse table through the high-definition screens. The bandwidth demands for Cisco’s telepresence systems are large — 15Mbps for its three-screen TelePresence 3000, designed for up to 12 seats, and 5Mbps for its single-screen TelePresence 1000, designed for up to four seats.
The price of the new telepresence systems is high — US$299,000 for two locations equipped with Cisco’s TelePresence 3000 and $79,000 for two locations with the 1000. But the experience is impressive.
Initially there aren’t a lot of companies who will be able to justify the cost of a telepresence system, but as bandwidth and production costs go down over time, the new telepresence technology could finally make videoconferencing a mainstream corporate application.