Welcome to the World of HD Videoconferencing
Telepresence for all? Let me take this video call on my smart phone.
November 08, 2010 by Steven Castle

You’ve seen the TV commercials with Juno’s Ellen Page visiting a school and a doctor using some cool, high-def video conferencing? She’s so pleasantly surprised. But there’s a lot more going on than Ellen Page discovering the joys of what is now being called telepresence systems.

Telepresence is really just a fancy term for video conferencing. Providers say that telepresence refers to high-definition video conferencing, though it really provides more of a realistic face-to-face with the person on the other end. Companies like Cisco, HP and Panasonic are betting on the high-end telepresence model—with systems costing in the five figures, easy. Some fancy telepresence rooms for CEOs to attend corporate meetings from their home offices are costing $350,000 and up.

This is not just the stuff of the future. Marriott already has telepresence studios at five of its U.S. hotels and has telepresence plans for at least 25 hotels worldwide—with other chains like Sheraton, Westin and W Hotels quickly following suit.

At the more affordable end of the spectrum are Skype phones and the like, but the result is often jerky video and dropouts with audio sync issues. It’s a cheap way to see Grandma and Grandpa. Future versions of the iPad should even come with a front-facing camera as well as the FaceTime program for face-to-face calling that’s already on the iPhone—perhaps as soon as Christmas.

Microsoft is getting into the act with its LifeCam Studio camera for Windows Live Messenger 2011, offering HD video calling in a 16:9 widescreen format for $100 at Best Buy. Then there’s the anticipated release of Microsoft’s Kinect technology, an interface for the Xbox gaming platform, complete with a time-based object sensor. Think Wii games on virtual reality, on steroids. Futurist and Silicon Valley insider Rich Green of high-end systems integrator Rich Green Ink, thinks the sensor technology in Kinect could be used to add some interesting dimensions to telepresence. For example, Kinect’s tracking functionality can adjust the camera so the speaker remains in the frame while moving about.

In addition, Google appears to be eyeing the home videoconferencing market with its Android operating system and the recently announced Google TV.

Surely, we will see all kinds of video call capability in cell phones and mobile devices. Think some of us have a problem driving and texting now?

But the really big gambles are taking place in the high-end HD “telepresence” market. Cisco recently purchased telepresence systems maker Tandberg for $3.4 billion, and is deeply invested in building a new high-tech city, Songdo, on 1,500 acres of land reclaimed from the sea near Incheon, South Korea.

Songdo is being billed as an “International Business District” and a city of the future, borrowing design amenities for parks and canals from other great cities and connecting everyone living in it with—you guessed it—telepresence systems from Cisco. Songdo planners also say the city will emit just one-third of the greenhouse gasses of a similarly sized city, partly due to video conferencing.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
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.

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