Technology Showcase: Videoconferencing Systems
Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney
Long-predicted communications technology fulfills its potential.
To preserve the reality of a telepresence system, audio conversations that accompany the video images have to be free of the lag time that can sometimes be caused by slow encoders or delays in transmission. Human perception has a threshold of about a 200-millisecond delay before the latency of communication becomes recognized. In addition to lifelike images, low audio latency of less than 200 milliseconds is crucial to preserve the immersive experience that tele-presence promises.
Today, Wainhouse Research, a marketing statistics firm that tracks the videoconferencing industry, estimates in its Q4 2007 year-end report that revenues are increasing by 39 percent for the industry as a whole, powered by a sales boom of almost 30 percent per year. While it is hard to calculate the impact of the trendy desire to get on the bandwagon of a nifty new corporate-communications gimmick, many insiders also credit the increased difficulty and environmental impact of business travel as a major impetus for modern videoconferencing's success. One VTC system provider's website, Teleris, even provides a carbon-footprint calculator certified by The CarbonNeutral Company to quantify the amount of greenhouse gases that can be saved by videoconferencing.
Companies that don't want to invest in their own videoconferencing system can rent videoconferencing rooms on an as-needed basis from FedEx Kinkos or Regus.
Although the videoconferencing industry is dominated by two giants, Polycom and Tandberg — who together represent two-thirds of sales — an accelerating number of players are bringing out increasingly intriguing designs of their own. These can range from webcams to desktop-video endpoints, and from roll-around carts to single-point camera installations. But the greatest potential for impact on the corporate world seems to be from multiparticipant, multipoint videoconferencing systems that approach telepresence capabilities. After all, it is hard to call a video chat between two people a conference no matter how pristine the images. Here is a look at some of the most interesting group-oriented videoconferencing systems available on the market today.
Italian company Aethra is offering the Vega X7R at the forefront in its development of video-communication technology. Created for systems integrators, the new version X7R is designed for simple insertion into professional rackmount installations. The integrated Multipoint Conferencing Unit (MCU) in the Vega X7R connects up to nine sites in mixed mode (ISDN, IP-H.323, and IP-SIP), with convenient dial-out and dial-in (Meet Me) configuration. The Vega X7R is optimized for 720p video on 16:9 screens at 768kbps, with the possibility to connect in HD at just 512kbps. The company intends to move to a 1080p HD capability in the future. The X7R works with the Aethra Maia XC videophone, combining professional videoconferencing features with IP telephony. The Aethra system is intended for use in professional conference rooms, auditoriums, and television studios, as well as for the creation of customized audio/video projects in high definition.
BrightCom ClearView conference room solutions are a series of integrated AV conferencing systems for small to large conference rooms using multiple screens. ClearView supports the most popular standards for compression, including H.264 for video and G.722 for audio. You can select the quality of video — from standard definition to HD — being used in the BrightCom ClearView conference room to conserve bandwidth for conference rooms with a slow connection. To prevent being blocked by a network's security systems, ClearView is a completely proxy- and firewall-friendly tunneled video stream. In addition, the BrightCom Visual Collaborations System (VCS) is designed to be up and running in just a few minutes by using IP connectivity. Each server in the BrightCom Visual Collaborations system comes equipped with five meeting rooms, with each room holding up to 100 participants. Administrators can set the level of users within a meeting to maintain performance, depending on the network.
The Cisco Systems TelePresence systems are an attempt to live up to the promise of telepresence by making the whole room installation an extension of the videoconferencing experience. Cisco TelePresence is a comprehensive solution consisting of entire room systems containing up to three 65in. plasma screens; a high-definition, multipoint switching platform; multichannel spatial audio; Cisco TelePresence Manager software; and the lifecycle services to plan, deploy, and maintain the experience. Even a bit of stagecraft magic helps create the illusion of gathering at a table in the same room as the other people speaking, because the custom installation includes the same circular table in the far-side room as the table at which the participants in the local side are sitting. The Cisco TelePresence 1000 allows a small meeting for two per room or up to four at the virtual table. The Cisco TelePresence 3000 allows for six people per room, creating a seating environment for 12 participants.
With the largest patent base in the world on telepresence, DVE has become known for its dedication to cracking the control of eye contact in videoconferencing. The company solves the problem by putting the display in a floor cabinet, and directing it upward onto a semi-reflective sheet of glass mounted at 45 degrees to the viewer so it can act as a beam splitter. That way, a camera can be positioned behind the slanted glass and aimed directly at the viewer, but the viewer cannot see the camera. You can see this implementation in the DVE Telepresence 50, which is the company's flagship product for group conferencing with two to eight people on a side.
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