HP's New SkyRoom: Halo For The SMB Set

Aimed at the SMB crowd, HP has unveiled SkyRoom, a low-priced collaboration tool that lets up to four people hold a videoconference over a standard business network for $149, with no subscription fees. The sticker-friendly price is in sharp contrast to HP Halo, the company's suite of telco and videoconference solutions for the enterprise, which can add up to thousands of dollars.

HP is also marketing SkyRoom as a timely alternative to business travel, given the state of the economy, and points out that a videoconference with four people using SkyRoom is cheaper than the cost of a round-trip airfare from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The company also boasts that during a SkyRoom session, information is transferred at a rate four times faster than the blink of an eye.

After three years of research, HP unveiled a beta version of SkyRoom in March at the company's workstation event. Here, Jim Zafarana, vice president of HP's Workstation Global Business Unit, and Jeff Wood, HP's Worldwide Workstation product marketing director, give a demo of SkyRoom in action. Elements of the technology used in SkyRoom were used by NASA's Mars rovers to transfer high-resolution images back to Earth, according to HP, but there was no word about any conferencing with Martians.

SkyRoom's image engine gives remote users a view of the host presenter's desktop and its apps as if they were using a local machine. It can also display 2-D and 3-D graphics, full-motion video and multidisplay on a system that only has a 2-D graphics card. SkyRoom also lets users share any type of apps supported on their PCs or workstations, including office documents, streaming video and interactive 3-D applications.

In addition, SkyRoom software on the presenter's system monitors and updates only changes in screen appearance -- not the entire display -- and then compresses and encrypts the information before sending it to other participants, where it is decrypted, decompressed and updated. By doing this, network traffic, latency and bandwidth requirements are cut, and the need for dedicated networking hardware is eliminated.

SkyRoom also lets users share any type of applications supported on their PCs or workstations, including office documents, streaming video and interactive 3-D applications.

HP's first mention of SkyRoom was in March when the company launched its HP Z Workstation series, the HP Z800, HP Z600 and HP Z400. HP SkyRoom has been preinstalled on the Z PCs, as well as unspecified, high-end business PCs and notebooks hitting the market in the next few months.

HP SkyRoom will be included as a standard feature -- at no cost -- on select HP business desktop and mobile workstations and for free for a trial period on many upcoming HP premium business PCs and notebooks. HP SkyRoom can be used on workstations or PCs from Dell, Lenovo or Sun that meet minimum technology requirements.

The company is offering a 90-day trial of SkyRoom, and for current customers using HP workstations, desktops and notebooks, as well as PCs and workstations from Dell, Lenovo and Sun.

To run HP SkyRoom on other vendor PCs, the minimum requirements are Intel Core 2 Duo 2.33-GHz or equivalent processor with 2 GB RAM, a Webcam and Microsoft Windows XP or Vista. In addition, the minimum network requirement is a broadband network with a minimum transfer rate of 400kbps, and SkyRoom must run over a corporate VPN to connect to systems outside the local firewall.