Like all technologies before it, the future of high-definition video conferencing appears to be about to be defined by segmentation.
At the top end of the market right now we have Cisco with its TelePresence systems. The only thing that is as impressive as the TelePresence viewing experience is the price tag. By the time your organization is done buying all the special furniture and hardware, the costs can be well north of $200,000. Depending on the size of your organization, you can probably justify that expense by redirecting dollars out of the travel budget and no doubt TelePresence does increase productivity via higher levels of collaboration.
But its price tag in this economy is enough to give a lot of potential customers cause for pause. So much so that a lot of companies have taken to opting to essentially renting a Cisco TelePresence session at a hotel or anywhere else that offers office services to businesses.
Although Cisco dominates the category, Mitel has been making recent inroads and now comes the acquisition of Lifesize Communications by Logitech. Lifesize makes a hardware system that allows the setting up of high-definition video conferences at a budget level most small-to-medium businesses can afford. So don't be surprised when these systems start showing up at your local big box retailer.
Other players that are trying to establish themselves in this category include Hewlett-Packard, while Polycom is making a concerted push given its current dominant position in video conferencing. One of its main traditional rivals in that category, Tandberg, is theoretically in the process of being acquired by Cisco, which signals Cisco's intention to be a lot more competitive in the lower end of the market.
Obviously, this all means that there is a significant amount of work to be done in making all these high-definition video conferencing system interoperable. Nobody really wants to live in a world where we have to make sure we're using the same video conferencing systems to communicate. In addition, most of these companies will not be judged on the quality of the video, but rather the richness of the collaboration experience. How easy they make it to integrate applications and access Web services such as those provided by Adobe, Microsoft and Cisco's WebEx within their environments are the attributes that business users are going to require on a daily basis. Otherwise, all you are really making is a video phone call.
In the meantime, the thing to do now is to start testing how robust you're network infrastructure is today, because high-definition video conferencing is coming to it sooner than you might think.