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Videoconferencing – As Real

By Richard "Zippy" Grigonis

At one time companies avoided videoconferencing because the equipment was big and expensive, and setting up conferences was a technical ordeal (bonding two or three BRI ISDN lines wasn’t always tons of fun) as well as an administrative hassle. Over time the situation improved with the arrival of cheap, high-bandwidth IP connections, presence technology and the continuing decline in electronics cost, but growth in the industry was still slow. A major boost came with the events of 9/11, after which everyone talked about using audio and videoconferencing, as well as application sharing over the web, to keep employees out of harm’s way. Recently there have been “green” arguments for using conferencing equipment (no travel = no great energy expenditure or pollution). Economics, however, rules the day. Video use reduces travel expenses, but in these increasingly tough times many companies don’t have money for either conferencing or travel. Between these two extremes are organizations with no equipment that rely on conferencing service providers, such as Verizon.

In the meantime, videoconferencing technology continues to improve with lifelike high-definition “telepresence” and scales up in terms of call capacity. Indeed, some little boxes can handle the needs of a service provider, let alone an enterprise.


For example, TANDBERG (http://www.tandberg.net) which provides presence-based , high-definition videoconferencing and mobile video solutions, recently launched their TANDBERG Codian MSE 8321 gateway, enabling organizations to support 1,000 videoconferencing calls between ISDN and IP, or up to 180 videoconferencing calls in HD between ISDN and IP via their Universal Port technology. Recent enhancements allow the Codian to support up to 72 ISDN primary rate interfaces (PRIs) in a single chassis (nine ISDN blades at eight PRI ports per blade), which TANDBERG claims makes their box the highest capacity, HD ISDN gateway in the market.

TANDBERG has also developed new software which integrates HD video with Microsoft OCS. They even formed an alliance with Hewlett-Packard (http://www.hp.com) to make their respective telepresence and video conferencing portfolios interoperable. TANDBERG’s systems can operate on the 45 Mbps HP Halo Video Exchange Network (HVEN), a secure, high-bandwidth, full duplex, worldwide fiber optic network.

The Halo Gateway acts as a bridge between a Halo session and a videoconferencing (H.323/H.320) call such as one from any TANDBERG endpoint, as well as most standards-based (H.323/H.320-compliant) endpoints. The gateway includes a TANDBERG Video Switch with their 6000 MXP codec, a Halo compositor, and HP ProLiant application server with an HP SAS drive, all required cards, interfaces and cabling, custom-designed HP Proprietary Software, complete installation in the Halo studio(s) and 24x7 monitoring, diagnostics and concierge service.

HP’s Halo Collaboration Studio provides an immersive telepresence experience through HP’s HVEN, the whole system being an end-to-end managed solution. With HVEN, video packets pass through a maximum of four routers, thus reducing packet loss, delay and jitter and enabling a “no-perceived-delay” experience. HP says Halo Collaboration Studio can be implemented without upgrades to your existing network infrastructure. You don’t even need to hire any specially-trained IT personnel. HP takes care of everything and provides 24x7 service.

The Halo Collaboration Studio offers multipoint capabilities, and cameras with 3-axis control operation that automatically adjust to provide proper eye contact and geometric consistency. Over the HVEN HD channel one can share presentations, video or Computer-Aided Design (CAD) images from your laptop computer. You can view hard copy documents or handheld objects via an HD overhead object camera capable of handling 1280x960 pixels or 720HD, with a maximum zoom of 64x. The dedicated collaboration channel includes an HD collaboration screen and proprietary software. You can even share multimedia materials such as DVDs or audio presentations in full stereo sound.

Moreover, Halo construction specialists help companies construct a suitable Halo environment, which includes specially designed sound absorbing wall coverings, fully-duplexed spatial audio with echo cancellation, a graphic eye lighting control system, and an executive table with chairs.

As Big As Life

HP’s competitors at the high end include LifeSize (http://www.lifesize.com), Teliris (http://www.teliris.com), Cisco Systems (http://www.cisco.com) and Polycom (http://www.polycom.com).

LifeSize Communications (http://www.lifesize.com) offers variations of their telepresence systems for the enterprise, education, public sector and healthcare. Their LifeSize® Room™ is their high-end, HD video communications system that connects to most displays in any size conference room and provides 1280 x 720 pixels at 30 frames per second video resolution. Like competing telepresence systems, participants can be made to appear true-to-size. HD resolution requires 1 Mbps, DVD quality comes in at 512Kbps and Cable TV quality can be achieved at 384 Kbps. LifeSize Room includes embedded 4-way CP (Continuous Presence) and 6-way VAS (Voice-Activated Switching) HD multipoint capabilities to connect multiple participants. A single person in a small office might try LifeSize Express, a more affordable, user-friendly, HD system.

For team projects and sharing multimedia, LifeSize offers LifeSize Team MP. Designed to connect people in different locations, LifeSize Team MP relies on an embedded HD multipoint bridge. Four callers can be viewed simultaneously without external equipment, advanced scheduling, or a technician.

LifeSize hasn’t ignored audio either. Their new LifeSize® Phone has 16 always-on microphones that deliver 2X the room coverage and 10X lower distortion from HVAC and projector noise.

Room With a View

Teliris (http://teliris.com) offers a particularly impressive fourth-generation telepresence system. Called VirtuaLive, it’s an impressively modular, scalable and reliable (Teliris guarantees 99+% reliability) system. And it’s also delivers an amazingly lifelike conferencing experience, even for a telepresence system. The ingenious technological methods to make this illusion work involve Teliris’ own large, non-glare screens using “Hyperion” technology that minimizes the gap between screens to the smallest in the industry, and matching up the “eye lines” of parties in both rooms involved in the conversation, so that you find yourself in a realistic, perfectly natural meeting experience. Teliris goes so far as to analyze and configure your organization’s conference room for optimal performance, even calculating distances and delays using the speeds of light and sound so that both the video and audio will be perfectly synced (no more silent moving lips).

Marc Trachtenberg, Marc Trachtenberg, CEO, CTO and co-founder of Teliris, says, “We’re selling a great meeting experience, not technology.”

Teliris systems are modular and scalable. You can have a huge multiscreen system (each module uses about 6.5 Mbps), or you can set a single-screen executive model on your desk. They also offer WebConnect technology that allows for remote participants to engage in a virtual meeting through any broadband Internet-connected web-based device. Users can view, hear and interact in a full telepresence meeting, and can review presentation materials or any other content displayed in the meeting room.

Teliris has also announced the release of a gateway that expands their systems’ interoperability, allowing Teliris customers to connect to competing standard telepresence systems as well as legacy videoconferencing, audio and desktop conferencing systems and web-enabled devices such as mobile phones and PDAs.

Indeed, Teliris is the leader in the Telepresence industry, holding about 44 percent of the market share and deployed in 19 countries. They’re the most widely-deployed solution in the pharmaceutical, banking/financial and media sectors. The company received the 2007 Global Award for Market Leadership from Frost & Sullivan

The Cisco TelePresence meeting solution also creates a live, “face-to-face” meeting experience over the network-empowering, boosting your ability to interact and collaborate with others.

Cisco got into the telepresence business with their introduction of Cisco TelePresence in October 2006. It provides HD 1080p video, spatial audio, and the “single conference room trick” whereby distant rooms are configured (e.g. painted the same color) so that they resemble a single conference room during the telepresence experience.

TelePresence 3000 is Cisco’s higher end system, featuring three 1080p flat panel displays, three broadcast-quality cameras, three ultrasensitive microphones, three 60-inch plasma screens, a crescent-shaped table that seats six and soft backlighting, all for US$299,000.

The smaller TelePresence 1000 system for small group meetings and one-on-one conversations (with up to 72 participants in a multipoint meeting) uses a single 1080p 65-inch flat panel display, and costs US$79,000.

Cisco’s TelePresence systems are equipped with H.264 video codecs, the Session Initiation Protocol, native 720p and 1080p high-definition cameras, native 720p and 1080p high-definition encoding/decoding, wideband advanced audio coding with low delay (AAC-LD), multichannel spatial audio with echo cancellation and interference filters to eliminate feedback from mobile devices.

Cisco has taken the unusual initiative of featuring their system in TV commercials, and in a product placement coup, the TV series 24 used Cisco TelePresence for conversations involving the characters of Vice President Noah Daniels and Russian President Suvarov.

The Cisco TelePresence 1000 accommodates seating for one or two participants on each side around a virtual table for up to four participants in a point to point meeting, or up to 72 participants in a multipoint meeting. Integrated equipment for optimized user experience includes one 65-inch plasma screen, a speaker and microphone with echo cancellation, lighting, and an ultra-HD codec and camera specially optimized to the small-group environment.

The Cisco TelePresence Manager software integrates with enterprise groupware and Cisco Unified Communications Manager, so scheduling is not more difficult than sending a calendar invitation. You can launch both point-to-point and multipoint calls by pressing a button on the meeting-room phone.

And, in a big interoperability push, Cisco TelePresence endpoints (Cisco TelePresence Systems 1000 and 3000) can now interoperate with other videoconferencing endpoints. Product enhancements include software updates to the 1000 and 3000 endpoints, Cisco TelePresence Multipoint Switch, and Cisco TelePresence Manager to enable full interoperability through integration with Cisco Unified Videoconferencing solutions.

Of course, Polycom (http://www.polycom.com), founded in 1990, was in the conferencing business before just about anybody else. In October 2001 they acquired PictureTel Corporation and what at the time was the best PC-based group video communications architecture. This worked well with the next-gen rich-media network infrastructure products and multipoint control units, firewalls and gateways that Polycom had acquired from the February 2001 acquisition of Accord Networks. In 2006 Polycom added the RPX 200 Series and 400 Series telepresence systems to its line of videoconferencing solutions. Polycom also makes the very popular Polycom VSX line, and it competes at the high end with boardroom HD video conferencing in the form of its high-definition Polycom HDX 9000 Series. the HDX 9000 supports up to 1280x720 resolution at 30fps (720p), uses a maximum bandwidth of 6 Mbps for HDX 9004 and 4 Mbps for the HDX 9002 and HDX 9001.

Polycom continues to develop and market a wide range of easy-to-use and cost effective voice and video communication endpoints, video management software, web conferencing software, multi-network gateways, and multipoint conferencing and network access solutions. They also offer The Polycom Office, a fully integrated, end-to-end video, voice, data and web collaboration solution.

The Service Provider Angle

Some companies can’t be bothered (or afford) lots of video equipment on the premises. For them, service providers such as Verizon Business (http://www.verizonbusiness.com) have jumped in to introduce the marvels of videoconferencing.

Verizon’s new HD video service is being touted not just as a cost-slasher but as a way to “reduce carbon emissions associated with business travel”.

The service provides a screen frame size of 1280x720 pixels at 30fps. Your equipment must support HD video on both ends. Four access speeds are available – 1.15 Mbps, 1.47 Mbps, 1.54 Mbps, and 1.92 Mbps. The system supports hybrid calls (mixed IP and ISDN transport on the same call), advanced global facilities supporting IP and ISDN transport, end-user training, round-the-clock global tech support and flexible solutions ranging from self-service to full outsourcing. Verizon Business can act as your corporate scheduler, assigning activities in conference rooms. Participants with dissimilar codec speeds can participate in the same video conference. Participants who do not have video access can join in via an audio-only connection.

Videoconferencing has progressed over the years from science fiction and exhibits at World Fairs, to hobbyist implementations, to klunky rollabout devices and now to sleek, high-bandwidth, high-definition systems from individuals, groups or large conference rooms. It’s about time. IT

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.

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