Videoconferencing: For Today And Tomorrow

With the advent of ubiquitous broadband and new high-definition display technology, videoconferencing is finally hitting its stride. Here are nine products available now, plus a glimpse at what the future might hold for videoconferencing solution providers.


Cisco Systems put high-definition videoconferencing on the buzz map in 2006 by throwing its marketing muscle behind telepresence, a technology that combines high-quality videoconferencing and audio with elements of the surrounding environment to make participants feel as if they are together in the same room. Cisco's TelePresence System 3000, its flagship full-room system, integrates three 65-inch HD plasma displays and surround-sound audio, seating six participants on each side of its virtual table. The system ties into Cisco's Unified Communications Manager VoIP platform and is priced at $300,000.


Polycom recently expanded its line of high-definition videoconferencing products with the launch of its Telepresence Experience High Definition (TPX HD) family. Model 306M includes a wall unit that incorporates three 60-inch HD plasma displays, videoconferencing equipment, cameras and a high-fidelity stereo system. The setup also includes a conference table, 360-degree ceiling microphones and a touch-screen control system. It is priced at $199,999.


If your customers are addicted to videoconferencing, you might want to install this baby. Tandberg's Codian MSE 8000 offers high-capacity network infrastructure for enterprise customers with heavy videoconferencing needs. The single-chassis system works with a series of blades to provide multipoint conferencing, gateway, call recording and supervisor functionality. Its new Codian MSE 8321 gateway supports up to 1,000 concurrent videoconferencing calls between ISDN and IP, or up to 180 calls in HD between ISDN and IP.


For the executive that has everything, Tandberg's Centric 1700 MXP puts videoconferencing right on the desktop with a sleek system that combines an HD video camera with a 20-inch widescreen LCD. It can switch between HD calls and PC content to double as a monitor. It also includes embedded multipoint conferencing via Tandberg's MultiSite functionality, supporting calls with up to four video sites and three audio sites. It is priced at $7,990.


Telanetix offers its Digital Presence Meeting Room Edition, which can be installed without construction or special furniture into any room, from an executive office to a large auditorium. Its desktop sharing feature enables users to display content from their PCs. It also features a touch-screen control panel.


For HD videoconferencing without the big price tag, Start-up LifeSize Communications recently launched LifeSize Express, an HD point-to-point videoconferencing system priced under $6,000. That includes a camera, video codec and microphone. It offers 1280 x 720 HD video resolution at 30 frames per second and supports bandwidth of up to 1.5 Mbps.


Road warriors need video too. With Radvision's Scopia Desktop, employees can access high-quality videoconferencing from their PC desktops and laptops, whether they're in the office or not. It includes built-in firewall traversal so calls don't get blocked. Version 5.5, launched at Fall 2007 VON, adds text chat, conference moderation and waiting room capabilities, along with support for HD calls when used in conjunction with Radvision's Scopia HD Multipoint Control Unit.


You might have heard that Microsoft recently entered the unified communications market with the launch of its Office Communications Server 2007. Along with OCS, the vendor also introduced RoundTable. It might look like an old-fashioned microphone, but really it's a videoconferencing unit with integrated wideband audio capabilities that provides a 360-degree panoramic view of the conference room. It is priced at approximately $3,000. In addition to OCS 2007, RoundTable also works with Microsoft's Office Live Meeting 2007 hosted service.


Hewlett-Packard in 2005 launched the Halo Collaboration Studio, designed in partnership with DreamWorks Animation SKG (which used the system while it was creating the movies Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third). HP might have beat Cisco to the telepresence market, but it hasn't yet built up much of a channel strategy around the product line.

And now, back to the future. Several vendors recently have shared their ideas on what the future of videoconferencing technology could look like. Take all of the technology available today, add a few more years of research and development and this is what you might get.


Panasonic created a lot of buzz at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show when it introduced a 150-inch HD plasma TV. But that wasn't the biggest thing it showed off that day. The company also demonstrated Life Wall, a wall-sized interactive video display that uses facial recognition to customize its interface for individual users and enable content to follow a user as he moves throughout the room. When not in use, LifeWall can display virtual room decor such as wallpaper, windows and framed images to blend into an existing environment.


At the Networkers at Cisco Live 2007 event, Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers (left) and Chief Demonstration Officer Jim Grubb provided a futuristic hospitality demonstration, showing how hotels could use Cisco technology to provide high levels of personalization and communication to their guests. Here, the pair uses Cisco's TelePresence high-definition video technology to illustrate how guests could check in with a chef at a hotel restaurant to learn about the day's specials. Other features of the room include personalized digital picture frames, access to a user's personal DVR content and a bathroom mirror that doubles as a display where guests can watch news feeds or order breakfast while preparing for the day ahead.


Beam Me Up, Johnny. When Cisco recently opened a new campus in Bangalore, India, it gave a video technology demonstration that allowed executives in San Jose to share the stage virtually with Chairman and CEO John Chambers.

"John was on stage there, and I was able to appear with John in Bangalore even though I was on a stage here in San Jose. The people in the audience literally gasped when I walked out on stage It looks like I'm right next to him in 3-D," said Marthin De Beer, senior vice president of the emerging technology group at Cisco.

Shown: Chambers (left) with projected images of De Beer and Vice President and General Manager Charles Stucki (right).


Soon you'll be able to share a meal without sharing a table, at least not a real one. Polycom envisions a future where telepresence could be used for long-distance dining, enabling executives in New York to share a meal virtually with business partners in Tokyo, for example. It all goes pretty well until you try to nab a piece of sushi from the other side of the table.


This concept could actually save a few marriages. Dad wants to catch the big game with his buddies, but mom's not around to watch the baby. Enter HD videoconferencing right on the television that allows all of the camaraderie without sharing a couch. Just watch the foul language in front of the kids.


Polycom's "video everywhere" concept would allow users to make and receive video calls from any device over a wired or wireless connection. That way you can carry your latte in one hand and your colleagues in the other.


As Polycom sees it, powerful content collaboration applications could allow participants to share and manipulate three-dimensional models in high quality across distance. It could also make for a killer game of 3-D tic-tac-toe.