Cisco videoconferencing goes life-size

NEW YORK – Cisco Systems Inc. has launched a video conferencing hardware line that boasts twice the visual quality of high-definition television and the ability to view life-sized people on screen.

At a demonstration to media, analysts and users at One Penn Plaza, Cisco launched the first two components, models 1000 and 3000 of TelePresence Meeting, which includes 65-inch plasma displays with 1080p video, cameras, codecs, sound system, lighting and furniture.

Version 1000, which costs US$79,000, is designed for meetings of up to four people in a regular office, while version 3000, which costs US$299,000, is designed for meetings of 12 people (six in two separate locations) and includes three plasma displays. It requires a specially designed room.

They are scheduled to ship within the next three weeks, said Charles Giancarlo, chief development officer and senior vice-president at San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco.

Both versions have spatial audio, designed to transmit the sound speakers make from where they appear on the screen.

Giancarlo said Cisco designed the lighting and desktop to make users appear more life-like to those at the other end. Cisco sells the table with the system to ensure the colour is consistent in all online conferences.

“We make everything but the chairs,” he said.

One industry analyst who attended a demonstration said it’s difficult to get an idea of the quality of the product without seeing one in action.

Two day set-up

“To be honest, I went in (to a demonstration) pretty skeptical,” said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of enterprise research at Boston-based Yankee Group. “I’m not an enormous video conferencing fan.”

But he was “really impressed” with TelePresence, because the room setup, lighting and acoustics improve the overall quality of a session.

“It wasn’t the same as being there, but it was awfully close,” Kerravala said.

The demonstration included Giancarlo, Marthin De Beer, vice-president of Cisco’s emerging markets technology group, two reporters, a beta tester, an analyst and a Cisco executive in New York conferring with six people at the vendor’s San Jose headquarters, including chief executive officer John Chambers.

The New York conference room included a half-oval table facing three screens, so when the conference was in session it appeared as if the six people in San Jose were at the other side of an oval table.

TelePresence 3000 takes two technicians two days to set up the room.

Chambers said Cisco wanted a conferencing product that lets users see subtle patterns of body language on the other end.

“Two-thirds of interaction is non-voice,” he said. “It was what we asked Marty and Charlie to do. It was, ‘Beam me up, Scotty.’”

Kerravala agreed TelePresence makes it easier to detect subtle non-verbal signs at the other end.

“I could read what a person was writing on a pad on the other side of the camera,” he said.

Giancarlo said TelePresence has very little over the line time delay, and users on both ends can cut into the conversation with comments.

“Interruption works great in this environment,” he quipped.

TelePresence requires a Cisco IP phone, which is sold separately.

Administrators can schedule conferences using calendaring programs like Outlook, and then have the information sent to the IP phone in the conference room. An icon with the name and scheduled time of the conference will appear on the IP phone screen beside a button, which the user must press to start the conference.

Anyone can operate it “if you can read and know how to use a telephone,” De Beer said.

Cisco claims the 1080p video is six times better quality than regular television, and twice as good as high definition television (HDTV).

Cisco is working on a certification program for carriers, which is designed to ensure their networks are able to support TelePresence, which requires about 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth.

Verizon Communications plans to test it over its private Internet Protocol and Ethernet networks.

Verizon’s Private IP service, which is available in 115 countries, has five separate classes of service and is designed to give priority to video traffic using multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) technology.

Verizon also plans to test the product over its various Ethernet services, including Ethernet Private Line, Ethernet over Synchronous Optical Network (SONET) and Ethernet Virtual Private Line.

AT&T is also running trials of TelePresence over its IP MPLS network and may include the product in its network integration and managed video communications services. TelePresence, which is sold through qualified partners and service providers, is part of Cisco’s Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA). Cisco is planning a version that allows more than two party conferencing.

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