Yes, telepresence can be an effective energy conservation tool. After all, the person using it isn’t burning tons of jet fuel.
Panasonic showed a $29,000 telepresence system called the KX-VC500 HD Visual Communications System (HDVC) at a recent trade show. The KX-VC500 consists of a 50-inch TV, a codec box, two cameras (one for viewing documents) and a microphone.
Truth be told, the system appeared cobbled together with a camera bracketed to the top of the TV, which makes one believe we’ll be seeing many more video cams being integrated into the bezels of TV sets (right along with Internet apps like Skype). Panasonic’s system worked well, and the company claims its strength—besides being scalable to its jumbo 103-inch plasma display—is in its ability to transmit HD-quality 1080i (that’s i, as in interlaced, no typo) video over small bandwidths such as 3 megabits per second, for both uploading and downloading.
Indeed, bandwidth is one of the bigger issues one must consider with telepresence systems. You’ll need about 3 to 5 mbps in order to do high-def video conferencing, says Green, and about 12 to 15 mbps to link multiple rooms.
Other factors should also be considered for better-than-Skype quality. You should look at having good lighting on your face, and the position of the camera will be critical. “You want to be able to capture all players on the scene,” Green says. Don’t forget acoustics, either, he advises. “Home theater acoustics will be perfectly adaptable to telepresence systems.”
Expect router issues as well. You’ll need port forwarding from router to devices to guarantee a pathway for the video signal. To that end, we’ll see telepresence-friendly routers.
And look for many, many mobile applications—if not in high-def telepresence, then in good-enough video calls on mobile devices. “We’re going to see it show up all over the place, and that will be major breakthrough,” says Green. I hope these home telepresence technologies merge with mobile and web cams for interoperability.”
That’s yet another thing to look for: the ability to work with other systems. Otherwise, there may no point to broadcasting your pretty face. Cisco has developed an open Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP) to link competing systems together.
Which leads to one final but important question: Do we really need telepresence or video conferencing at all? In the 1990s video conferencing was pushed as the next big thing, but it never took off, largely because most people didn’t see the need to have others see them while chatting on the phone. Who wants to dress up to go out in your own home?
Has the technology changed so much to make video conferencing ubiquitous? Have our high-tech expectations evolved toward that? Or are we simply that much more reliant on video to fuel every aspect of our lives?
Then again, an entire generation has passed since that time—and there’s a whole new brood of teenagers who are very likely willing to have video chats over their phones. They won’t need high-def telepresence systems for now—but they may well expect them later.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates