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Telepresence Strategies and Solutions

By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis

Telepresence (News - Alert) sits at the end of the evolutionary process for video and teleconferencing systems, and it’s now slowly being incorporated into larger unified communications frameworks. Technologically, telepresence has finally emerged from the world of science fiction; economically, organizations of all sorts realize that once one gets past the initial cost of installing such super high-end teleconference “environments” along with their broadband connections, they actually do save money (air travel, rented cars, meals, hotel rooms) and time (“instant travel” to collaborate, speeds up decision processes). You can even buy it as a service from AT&T (based on Cisco (News - Alert) equipment) or, acting as an individual or group, rent out a public Cisco TelePresence room.

Ironically, exotic telepresence is becoming popular precisely because it duplicates the mundane goals of business travel, but without the actual travel. You can sit down at a conference table in a well-appointed, audio-engineered room and look across the table to other conference participants on a series of 720 or 1080p screens, who appear life-size. The HD video can reveal the kind of subtle facial expressions and other nonverbal reactions that occur in “real” meetings. High quality, spatial audio picks up the subtlest nuances of speech. Moreover, new auxiliary devices — laptop like screens for Powerpoint presentations, special tables and walls — heighten the experience to the point where meeting participants interact as they would in person.

Polycom (News - Alert) got into the telepresence game in May 2006, and as of March 2009 has installed over 30,000 such systems, not to mention over 600,000 conventional videoconferencing systems. Aside from the business world, they’ve done very well in the GEM (News - Alert) (Government, Education and Medical) markets. Polycom offers such popular systems as their initial RealPresence Experience (RPX) portfolio that can accommodate up to 28 people per conference room, and which introduced Polycom’s term “immersive telepresence” to distinguish it from ordinary videoconferencing. More recently they’ve offered the Telepresence Experience High Definition (TPX HD) 306M system, initially priced one-third lower (US$199,000) than a comparable offering from Cisco (the TelePresence 3000, at US$300,000). The TPX is designed for more intimate meetings of up to six users per room. It uses three 60-inch HD plasma displays, videoconferencing equipment, cameras and an high-fidelity stereo system. The configuration includes a conference table, 360-degree ceiling microphones and a touch-screen control system.

For medium-sized conference rooms, Polycom offers the HDX videoconferencing line, such as its two-display 8000 series (US$13,999). There’s also an HDX 4000 executive desktop system and the HDX 9000 for large meeting rooms and classrooms. The HDX 8000 high-definition system is priced at $13,999 and is scheduled for availability in November.

“Especially in the GEM (Government, Education, Medical) space, there is still a ton of legacy gear. Polycom interoperates with that and enables customers not to lose their investment. [It prevents] them from not being able to purchase because they don’t have the budget to replace their full videoconferencing environment,” Vincent said.

And now, Polycom has introduced their Distributed Media Application™ (DMA) 7000, a network-based application that manages and distributes multipoint video calls within an enterprise network environment. The Polycom DMA 7000 unifies the enterprise visual communication infrastructure, improving the efficiency, reliability and performance of video calls, making it easier and less expensive for any organization to deliver on-demand video conferencing services to employees. Deployed on application servers, the DMA 7000 application manages and distributes video calls via reliable and scalable techniques across multiple Polycom RMX 2000 media servers, which are video conferencing “bridges” that join multiple sites in the same meeting, connect users on different networks and optimize the call experience between video endpoints with different capabilities. This distributed network design allows enterprises to connect and utilize main and branch office infrastructure systems together as part of a single, seamless solution.

The DMA 7000 thus enables a distributed network that provides both redundancy and scalability. There is no single point of failure. The solution supports hot standby application server redundancy, database redundancy and synchronization, media server redundancy and geographical redundancy. The DMA 7000 can intelligently route calls in real time around network outages or oversubscribed or unavailable media servers. As for scalability, you can increase the overall size of your resources by adding additional RMX media servers, or by adding greater capacity modules to existing RMX media servers, increasing the virtual pool of ports available across your organization.

Cisco TelePresence

Cisco Systems (News - Alert) entered telepresence arena in October 2006 with Cisco TelePresence. It sports 1080p video, spatial audio and its TelePresence Manager integrates with groupware, so that you can quickly schedule meetings with your existing Microsoft (News - Alert) Exchange deployment.

As an entry level system for small office/conference rooms (or a personal big shot executive model), the Cisco TelePresence System 500 sports a complete telepresence configuration in a small form factor. It has a single 37-inch LCD 1080p display, camera, and sound system.

The Cisco TelePresence System 1000 features a single 1080p flat panel display, and has a list price of US$59,000. Moving up the scale, the Cisco TelePresence System 3000 enters the kind of high-end telepresence system that has so captured the imagination, featuring three 1080p flat panel displays. The system can accommodate special tables, microphones, speakers, cameras, and lighting.

Cisco’s newest model, The CTS (News - Alert)-3200, adds a second row of tables to the CTS-3000 layout so that up to 18 people can participate in a single TelePresence room. The system uses 65-inch displays and has a high fidelity, spatially optimized audio system.

The Cisco TelePresence solution portfolio continues to expand via such innovations as intercompany communications, call encryption integrated into the Cisco Unified Communications (News - Alert) system, “one button to push” capabilities using Lotus Notes and expanded multi-point capabilities with support for up to 96 participants.

Moreover, the Cisco TelePresence Multipont Switch (CTMS) enables from 3 sites up to 48 sites to connect in any combination. Multiple switches can even be deployed for additional capacity. Best of all, the CTMS interoperates with legacy video conferencing systems.

Even individuals can now rent a public Cisco TelePresence room in your area on an hourly or daily basis. You must schedule it at least 24 hours in advance between two locations (soon multiple locations). Suites and hourly fees are available for up to 2 (US$299), 6 (US$499), or 18 (US$899) people. The minimum time you can reserve is 30 minutes, with 15-minute increments beyond that. Just visit and click “Book a meeting”.

Helping Hands from Dimension Data

At Dimension Data, Mark Zerbe, Vice President for Converged Communications, says, “There’s a difference between desktop video conferencing and room-sized telepresence systems. They’re related to each other, of course, but sometimes people use the terms interchangeably. As for Dimension Data, we’re a Cisco Global ATP (News - Alert) Partner, which means we’re certified in the ability to plan, deploy and support telepresence-type solutions on a global basis for Cisco. We’re seeing a lot of interest in telepresence and, candidly, we’re having a lot of success in deploying large-scale telepresence solutions for large global clients. The big benefit of telepresence for big global enterprise clients is improved collaboration and reduced cost. I think of it as the best answer to a corporate jet. With telepresence, you can get a lot of people together in a very efficient manner and while its not quite as good as being there, it’s a whole lot better than anything else that has ever existed, since it leverages visual immersion technology.”

“We see large corporate clients start with three or four endpoints and shortly thereafter they decide such things as, ‘Are we going to scale to 15 or 20 endpoints to pull together our manufacturing plants and key regional headquarters around the world?’ So it tends to start as a high-level executive tool and then moves down the corporate pyramid to mid-management. But it usually doesn’t make it down to the rank-and-file. That’s where the desktop video devices begin to take over, once the teleconferencing bug bites and organization and they just get so hooked on the video that they want to take it out to the desktop. There are many telepresence products out there, but I think Cisco really tipped the market with their solution, and that drove tremendous interest. In fact, if you look at the whole videoconferencing market, you can see a doubling or tripling in its annual growth rate after Cisco entered the market with telepresence.”

Hewlett-Packard (News - Alert)’s Halo

The HP Halo Collaboration Studio was designed by DreamWorks Animation SKG in partnership with HP. It’s a global, fully managed end-to-end solution that runs on a 45 Mbps private network designed specifically for video collaboration, called HVEN (Halo Video Exchange Network).

The Halo Collaboration Studio offers multipoint capabilities, and cameras with 3-axis control operation that automatically adjust for pleasing eye contact. Over the HVEN HD channel one can share presentations, video or 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. Multimedia materials can be shared such as DVDs or audio presentations in full stereo sound.

Halo construction specialists will help you construct an optimal Halo conferencing 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. Multiple “studios” around the world can be connected simultaneously via HP Halo Multipoint. Halo delivers full-duplex audio, company-to-company connections via the Halo network and 24/7 support with concierge service.

TANDBERG has developed software which integrates HD video with Microsoft OCS. They formed an alliance with Hewlett-Packard 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.

And now, HP and TANDBERG have recently announced the HP Halo Video Collaboration Service that will be available for the full range of TANDBERG conferencing systems, including TANDBERG Total Telepresence offerings.

The HP Halo Video Collaboration Service provides management and support from HP, including technical support, directory management and auto meeting initiation. Interestingly, the service also includes the capability to connect to other videoconferencing solutions, both on and off of the Halo Video Exchange Network, enabling customers to collaborate even more effectively with colleagues, partners, vendors and suppliers.

The HP Halo Video Collaboration Service, which complements the HP Halo Telepresence Solutions portfolio, will be available for customer installations in the first half of 2009. As part of it, HP will resell TANDBERG telepresence and high-definition visual communication products to enterprise customers who also purchase HP Halo managed service offerings. TANDBERG will provide the HP Halo Video Collaboration Service as an option for its global customer base. HP will keep making and selling its current line of telepresence hardware solutions, and will continue R&D work on future telepresence products and services.

Life-Sized Meetings with LifeSize (News - Alert)

LifeSize Communications has certainly lived up to its name, selling a top-notch telepresence system for the enterprise and such verticals as education, the public sector and healthcare. Their LifeSizeConference 200 solution is a classic telepresence solution, complete with a fully immersive experience: Full HD – standards-based 1080p/30fps and 720p/60fps. You can share documents and data in full motion, high definition with 720p/30fps dual streams. Users can choose between telepresence mode and video conferencing mode - providing the flexibility to create a telepresence experience or to use the full functionality of a LifeSize Room, including embedded MCU with transcoding, to connect up to six people on-demand. With built-in AMX panel software, calling can be done with one-button dialing.

The smaller LifeSize Room 200 provides 1280x720 pixels at 30fps video resolution. Interestingly, they can achieve HD resolution with just 1 Mbps, and they can reach DVD quality at 512 Kbps and Cable TV quality 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.

The cost effective LifeSize Team 200 gives you True HD video quality and 720p/30fps video. Supporting dual high definition displays and cameras, LifeSize Team 200 includes dual microphones and digital I/O. There’s also an embedded multi-point control unit (MCU). The slightly smaller LifeSize Team MP is, as its name implies, a system for team projects and the sharing of multimedia. LifeSize Team MP is based on an embedded HD multipoint bridge. Four callers can be viewed simultaneously without external equipment, advanced scheduling, or a technician. LifeSize even offers one of the most sophisticated phone systems on the market, the LifeSize Phone, which has 16 always-on microphones that deliver 2X (News - Alert) the room coverage and 10X lower distortion from HVAC and projector noise.

And now, LifeSize offers a new generation of web-based videoconference software. LifeSize Control is an all-in-one, software platform for the complete management of multi-vendor videocom environments. LifeSize Control can integrates into an enterprise IT environment, transforming video communications into a natural extension to your network. LifeSize Control allows administrators to manage the entire video infrastructure at-a-glance. A supervisor can discover, monitor and manage video devices and set up workflow to cell phones or email for troubleshooting and problem resolution. The LifeSize Control’s Smart Scheduler and Exchange integration enables end-users to schedule meeting resources as they normally would, with the smart Scheduler taking care of the details, allocating the necessary video resources.

The Control’s graphical reporting features ease the tracking of usage and performance of service level agreements. The Control’s report subscription services keeps administrators informed whever they are by emailing them PDF reports.

Show-and-Tell with Teliris (News - Alert)

Said to be the most widely-deployed telepresence solution in the pharmaceutical, banking/financial and media sectors, Teliris early on enhanced the teleconferencing experience in their VirtuaLive system via large, non-glare screens using “Hyperion” technology that minimizes the gap between screens to what’s said to be the smallest in the industry, and matching up the “eye lines” of parties in both conference rooms. Teliris even analyzes and configures your company’s conference room for optimal performance, calculating distances for sound to travel and the resulting time delays so that video and audio will be perfectly synced.

Teliris’ immersive room systems are modular and scalable. They’ve also done a remarkable job developing and deploying “multi-touch surface computing” devices. For example, their Teliris InterACT TouchTable™ and Teliris InterACT TouchWall™ enables content such as documents, videos, presentations and CAD renderings to be displayed at 1080p resolution, shared and modified by participants situated anywhere in the world. What’s so interesting is that the intelligence interface has “gesture recognition” software that sees what you’re doing and reacts appropriately to your natural, intuitive hand gestures. Hence, no need for user training. The TouchTable effortlessly integrates into standard Teliris Telepresence conference tables, and you can place the tables next to each other to create larger table spaces. As for the TouchWall, it’s an astonishing 110-inch diagonal vertical multi-touch segment wall, based on a similar gesture recognition system. You can also assemble additional segments to form a truly enormous conferencing wall if you like.

In a similar vein, the Teliris InterACT Easel™ is the telepresence equivalent of a flipchart/whiteboard. Any number of users from around the world can create, share and edit content in real time on it.

The old cliché has finally come true – the future is now. IT

Richard Grigonis (News - Alert) is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.


The following companies were mentioned in this article:

AT&T – (

Cisco Systems – (

Dimension Data – (

Hewlett-Packard – (

LifeSize Communications – (

Polycom – (


Teleris – (

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