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Telepresence: Are Rising Oil Prices Videoconferencing's Best Hope?

A telepresence system requires a significant amount of floor space and hefty ambient room cooling; Polycom's system takes up almost 40 square feet, so it recommends about 1.1 tons of cooling for the system while in a video call, which may result in a bit of overall noise not usually found in a conference or board room. But once environmental and bandwidth issues are dealt with, using a telepresence system really is almost like being in the same place.

Companies selling telepresence systems know that there are a few ways that technology can get in the way of a fluid meeting, no matter how good the video image quality is, so a few of the companies have begun to offer managed services, which was also a high concern in our 1999 study (22% said lack of in-house or service provider expertise limited them from adopting videonconferencing). Videoconferencing companies use a video network operations center (VNOC) to schedule telepresence suites, notifying participants of meetings, even turning on the room lights and launching the call between end points.

Some systems also feature an audio sleight-of-hand that helps bring the sense of being in the same room. Polycom and several other video- and audio-conferencing manufacturers have been working on expanded audio that effectively doubles the frequency of a caller's voice from 11kHz to 22kHz. Polycom also uses stereo positioning of the microphones and speakers to position the sound from each participant on an end point at the same location at the remote site. For example, if a person is sitting at the far left of the conference table in the local room, the sound at the remote room will also appear as if it is emanating from the same point on the virtual conference room table.

Portable Options
For those who don't want to spend the money for full-blown telepresence, companies like Tandberg and LifeSize have created portable HD videoconferencing units that can be attached to any HD plasma or LCD monitor, although both companies recommend plasma for its more lifelike video display. Tandberg makes the Edge system that can deliver up to 512kbps ISDN (H.320) or up to 2Mbps IP (using the H.323 or Session Initiation (SIP) protocols and the H.264 video codec). Even with the low-end system like this, Tandberg takes advantage of data/graphics transfer so that end points can see both the presenter and the presentation. LifeSize's Express, which Craig Malloy announced on the Streaming Media podcast mentioned above, also now comes bundled with a 720p HD camera that has an integrated stereo microphone for a highly-portable solution that fits in a carry on bag.

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