I was down at Cisco yesterday and saw a demo of their telepresence setup and the “connected sports” concept they are promoting for the new stadium the Oakland A’s want to build in Fremont.
The telepresence demo blew me away. Sure it’s pricey at up to $300k per setup, but the experience is amazing and removes almost every shortcoming of current web conference and teleconference systems. While the video capabilities were indeed impressive, it was the audio capabilities that are the clear differentiating capability.
The microphones are noise canceling and voice activated, and when combined with the multi-speaker configuration the effect is that there is spatiality in the audio. Put another way, when someone on the end of the table was speaking, the sound was directed from their seating position. The noise canceling was very effective, resulting in clear and “human textured’ speech but also clarity in the side conversations, which results in you getting the feel of the room as opposed to sound coming from microphones.
The video screens are, I believe, 52″ and Cisco claims they “optimized the glass” but who knows it that means something other than them putting a Cisco logo on the bezel. The large screens do make for life size images, again creating the impression that you are in a room.
The two shortcomings are that this obviously doesn’t work if you have more than 6 people on each end. We had 8 and the effect was that people in the back row were heard but not seen very well and if anyone stood up the result was that you only saw from their belt down.
The other shortcoming is that projected video, as in powerpoint presentations, are displayed below the screens. I found this to be kind of awkward. I think I would much prefer desktop units at each seat that displayed presentations, etc.
I went into this demo shrugging my shoulders, and I left saying “holy crap that’s cool”. At SAP we had invested a lot of money in top shelf video conferencing equipment and the experience was always crappy. The audio never had the warmth and texture of face-to-face conversation, and the video lacked the depth of field that this 3 screen wide experience delivered, and the result was that you always felt like you were looking down a tunnel when you were watching remote video.
At $300k for a system like this, and incidentally that includes the furniture as well, I can definitely see something like this getting a high degree of utilization that actually does result in travel expenses being reduced.