Telepresence Coming Into Sharper Focus

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Telepresence, which relies on gadgets -- very expensive gadgets -- isn't for everyone or every organization. In addition to the prohibitive cost, gains over traditional video conferencing only make a big difference in specific scenarios, such as when it truly is important to get a feel for what a remote participant is thinking or when intricate collaboration is necessary.


Those caveats aren't stopping folks from exploring the terrain. Last week, for instance, TelePresence Tech -- owners of the TPT50 interactive system -- and PicturePhone Direct signed a distribution and fulfillment deal for the U.S. market. The release says that the TPT50 is a self-contained 3D system aimed at corporate communications, training, education, interviews and other functions.


Also this week, Glowpoint certified HaiVision's products for use on its network. This means that HaiVision's line will be supported by Glowpoints Video Network Operations Center (VNOC) support services. HaiVision offers hai 1000 multi-stream codec technology and TASMAN H.264-based encoder/decoders. In a third piece of news, BT became one of only two Cisco Certified TelePresence Connection providers worldwide.


Some good analysis also has appeared recently, perhaps because the Telepresence World conference was held earlier this month in San Diego. This CIO piece starts with the requisition price disclaimer: Cisco's Halo system costs about $425,000, while Cisco's TelePresence 3000 and systems from Teliris, Polycom and Tandberg are bargains (so to speak) at $300,000 each. An offering from Telanetix -- apparently a service, not a product -- starts at about $1,000 per month.


The piece quotes Frost & Sullivan numbers that predict the North American telepresence market will grow from $27.6 million last year to $610.5 million in 2013. At least part of that growth will be driven by Cisco and Regus, which is described in this Technology Evangelist piece as the largest supplier of office space, meeting and conference rooms worldwide. The plan is to roll out 50 meeting rooms with Cisco gear worldwide starting next year.


This Forrester blog posting by Josh Bernoff attempts to describe what all the fuss is about by relating the experience he and a colleague had with Cisco's TelePresence. The core of the user's experience, he says, are three 1080p high definition television screens facing conference tables in each locale. The difference between telepresence and traditional video conferencing, Bernoff says, is that telepresence quality not only is higher, but also is more consistent. Telepresence also eschews zooming of Web-based conferencing because the goal is to create the feeling of being in the same place as the other participants.


His review is positive. He said that it is possible to interrupt each other -- something he calls a key to "real, powerful interaction" -- without a time lag. He also describes his colleagues' ability to be persuasive over the link in a way that seemed to pleasantly surprise him. On the negative side, motion on a computer screen was jerky when viewed over the link and the phone used by the system can't call out, so bringing in a third person was awkward.