This week NVIDIA, Intel, and Qualcomm all were pretty much on the same page that we need help with video conferencing, suggesting, likely accurately, that home video conferencing views suck. This focus is interesting for two reasons: One, like wearing anti-virus masks, buying the technology will have a positive impact on the person you are talking to, not yourself, and two, people are starting to realize how they look on video does affect their image.
It also leads me to believe that, if we look ahead, one of the future technologies (that NVIDIA hinted at) is to address how you look, and I think that will be a far more significant game-changer.
Let’s talk about all of that this week.
NVIDIA vs. Intel vs. Qualcomm: Making You Look Better
All three of these vendors are very proud, and should be, of their graphics performance, but, honestly, most people want their PC to work and are okay with baseline graphics. Intel was on point with that message, announcing they had increased the performance of their integrated graphics to a point where discrete graphics just no longer made sense. They went farther, announcing their new Evo brand, which is a near Intel only quality brand that appears to improve system efficiency and reliability significantly. But in this there were performance improvements that would far more seamlessly introduce green screen technology and noise cancellation into Evo platform products (and others using Intel’s new integrated graphics coupled with their new Tiger Lake part).
NVIDIA, in an impressive move before Intel’s announcement, showcased a series of performance advancements with their new RTX line, moving the bar significantly. They also pointed out compellingly that discrete graphics were not only still essential but could provide some exciting additional functions. Their Broadcast App - focused on those doing podcasts but very useful to those now video conferencing from home - could significantly improve the experience. They also had a powerful framing feature that keeps your head centered as if you had a panning camera improving the experience. Similar to Intel, they focused on background and noise cancellation, so when the systems coming out from both companies arrive, a new set of the head to head tests will undoubtedly follow.
Qualcomm’s graphic efforts were more focused in their IFA keynote on correcting one of the most annoying parts of video conferencing: the tendency for the speaker not to seem distracted (which is probably pretty accurate given the distractions in a home office). Their technology uses AI to adjust the image of the speaker’s eyes in real-time so it looks like they are looking at you. It is interesting to note that while both Qualcomm and Intel focused on laptops and ignored desktops, NVIDIA (as is typically the case) initially is focusing on desktop PCs, which have arguably been more useful with people unable or unwilling to travel. Consistent with the other two, Qualcomm also had a sound component but seemed more focused on sound quality than noise cancellation.
After the end of each presentation, I could see how people could get excited about every one of them. I think a user is going to want all of this, suggesting these vendors, over time, will begin to embrace the capabilities each just brought to the table. But NVIDIA had another presentation that I think better showcases where we need to go with this.
NVIDIA took one unusual step further with an application called NVIDIA Omniverse Machinima, which I think could evolve into a game-changer for Video Conferencing.
NVIDIA Omniverse Machinima: Upping The Game
NVIDIA Omniverse Machinima (someday I’ll learn how to pronounce this right) is designed to allow you to create streaming content using game assets. It also allows you to create avatars and have them automatically lip-sync. One of the problems with people video conferencing from home is that they often look like crap. I’ve been on calls with men and women who were always sharply dressed at work and then on video look like they’ve been locked up in a room with a large number of screaming kids torturing them for weeks. For men, the unironed T-shirt and the stubble looks like they’ve given up on their appearance.
This image problem doesn’t do their careers any favors because it appears like they don’t care how they look. While it is likely that, instead, it is the fallout of doing projects around the house and then having to suddenly be on a call where they are a participant, not a presenter. However, I’ve seen some pretty shabby presenters as well.
In theory, the technology that NVIDIA has created with Omniverse Machinima, if applied instead to their Broadcast app, something they have yet to do but I believe is coming, could allow you to fix this. You’d dress up in 3-6 outfits with makeup and fully shaved and do a 3-D scan of the result. Then, before the call, you’d select one in the utility, and the utility would then animate it based on what your camera saw you doing. The image should also better integrate with your virtual office image given both are being rendered, potentially creating a more realistic result. Granted, if your choice is the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, folks are likely to figure out that it is fake, but were you to use an excellent home library or home office image, they’d think that was where you were when instead you might be doing the call in bed from your way-too messy bedroom.
With active noise cancellation, you could appear professionally from almost anyplace, ranging from Disneyland to a bar (I’d avoid doing this drunk because, while entertaining, it would likely be career-limiting).
The flexibility would be incredible.
Intel, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm are pivoting to the new normal where working from home is far more common. But people still need to maintain their image and brand while dealing with a host of home-based distractions. Who wants to get dressed up for a video conference when the rest of the day you’ll be alone in your home or home office?
All three vendors have pivoted impressively quickly to this new opportunity. However, NVIDIA did the best bundle and had a technology that also best showcased the future, but on a desktop platform when that future may be on laptops, where Qualcomm and Intel focused. NVIDIA will get to laptops shortly, and I expect all three will move to correct the omissions of their offerings to create a higher level of parity.
But NVIDIA Omniverse looks like if it was applied to conferencing, it would significantly change the competitive dynamic and move us to the photorealistic virtual experience the market needs. NVIDIA has taken an early lead, but they aren’t as comprehensive as either Qualcomm and Intel, suggesting this will be a fascinating race to launch. It also suggests there may come a time when we may no longer have to get dressed for work at all.
I, for one, can hardly wait.
Rob Enderle has been a TechnologyAdvice columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an AS, BS, and MBA in merchandising, human resources, marketing, and computer science. Enderle is currently president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly worked at IBM and served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester.