Telepresence brings innovation to the conference table
One of the biggest obstacles to the wide-spread implementation of professional videoconferencing systems has been removed, allowing the promise of this efficiency-boosting and cost saving technology – once the exclusive preserve of large corporations – to be realised by small to medium size businesses (SMBs) and small office/ home office (SOHO) users.
So says Andy Robb, chief technology officer at specialist distributor Duxbury Networking who points to the rapidly falling prices of equipment linked to these systems which is making it possible for organisations to reduce capital outlay and infrastructure requirements significantly.
“Traditionally, companies have had to install costly ISDN or Diginet lines – and supporting equipment - to facilitate quality video conferencing between branches to meet the technology’s bandwidth demands,” he says.
“Despite the often-cited ‘green advantages’ such as obviating the need for people to travel, the cost-related barrier to entry for high-end videoconferencing remained prohibitive.”
Robb says new-generation videoconferencing systems can now deliver the same quality and versatility making use of standard, business-class asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) broadband connections.
“Today, technology is able to reproduce high quality video on multiple 55-inch, high-definition, 3D LCD screens per site – if this is the level of sophistication that’s required - over relatively cheap ADSL infrastructures.
“Unlike freely available desk-top webcam solutions, such as Skype, these ‘telepresence systems’ - as they’re now being billed – boast built-in mechanisms designed to cope with ‘jitter’, ‘noise’, line delays and other previously persistent obstacles to quality image definition,” he says.
“This allows smaller organisations to take advantage of the convenience, affordability and big business efficiency benefits of conducting remote meetings, reviews and interviews from the office or boardroom with the realism of costly higher‐end systems.
“As easy to use to use as instant messaging, today’s telepresence systems allow multi-party conferencing with participants calling in from desktop PCs, smartphones, tablet PC and other mobile devices,” notes Robb.
He says one of the biggest and most valuable spin-off benefits of high definition video conferencing is the ability to 'read' an individual's body language during a meeting - be it with prospects, clients, vendors or employees.
“Tele-communications such as email, Internet chat or phone calls cannot provide a true sense of how delegates react to various inputs,” he stresses. “Today’s telepresence systems effectively put all delegates in the same room, giving them experiences that closely mirror those of a face-to-face meeting.”
He says the technology will also play a key role in the development and sophistication of distance learning. “Now hundreds of students in a number of classroom locations can be addressed by lecturers from remote sites, allowing all participants to interact in real time.”
Robb adds that telepresence systems are poised to progress far beyond the confines of desktop-to-desktop or boardroom-to-boardroom teleconferencing of their predecessors.
“For example, designers are now looking at moving past 3D into holographic technology to give users the ultimate experience of being able to interact in real time with a 360-degree image of a conference delegate.
“Already researchers have created a method to produce holographic images that refresh every two seconds and say that 30 refreshes-per-second is a target that’s in reach within the next three to five years using conventional broadband technology.”