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5-Minute Interview: Howard Lichtman

Telepresence is a visual collaboration solution that addresses human factors to better improve end-user acceptance over and above what can be achieved with traditional videoconferencing.

Howard Lichtman

Howard Lichtman

President, Human Productivity Lab, Ashburn, VA. The Human Productivity Lab is a consultancy specializing in telepresence and visual collaboration. The company recently published a research paper, “Telepresence, Effective Visual Collaboration, and the Future of Global Business at the Speed of Light,” which examines the emerging telepresence industry.

Pro AV:How is telepresence different from traditional videoconferencing?

Lichtman: Telepresence is a visual collaboration solution that addresses human factors to better improve end-user acceptance over and above what can be achieved with traditional videoconferencing. Generally, telepresence solutions will also have some combination of the following features: life-sized or near life-sized images, eye contact or the approximation of eye contact, studio-quality sound, acoustics, directional audio, lighting, and engineered environments that achieve a consistency of quality. With traditional videoconferencing, you can walk into 50 videoconferencing rooms and they're all different. By consistency of quality, we mean that telepresence should be an engineered environment where both sides precisely place the participants in a culturally correct format.

Pro AV:Does telepresence videoconferencing always require a custom built room?

Lichtman: No. There are a couple of different formats for telepresence systems. Group systems — the most common format — generally seat six to eight participants, which can be done inside an engineered environment where you're constructing the acoustics, handling lighting, and building a room within a room to precisely engineer that environment. Or it can be delivered as a modular system where the technology, table, chairs, etc. are included. Although it costs more, you can improve the consistency of quality between the locations if you build an engineered environment.

Pro AV:What's the current cost to set up a telepresence system?

Lichtman: I would say that the average cost is around $250,000. The monthly recurring cost is $5,000 to $18,000, which includes the network connectivity, concierge help desk services, and onsite maintenance. There are a lot of moving parts such plasmas, DLP projection technologies, cameras, codecs, echo-cancellation, collaborative computers, interactive whiteboards, routers, racks, etc.

Pro AV:What kind of bandwidth do these systems require?

Lichtman: At a minimum, most telepresence group systems run from one T1 line to two T1 lines. If it's one T1, it might be one T1 for video, so you're looking at a minimum of two video streams. Those two video streams each take up half of a T1 line. Then there's generally another T1 line for data collaboration. There can also be another T1 line for control. Bandwidth requirements can be up to 45 Mb or higher, depending on if you're doing real-time video editing in a movie studio or running high-definition across multiple streams.

Pro AV:What's the most promising application for telepresence?

Lichtman: Inter-company business. Traditional videoconferencing has typically been done internally. One of the reasons for this is that there weren't solutions available for easy firewall traversal until recently. Whereas traditional videoconferencing had the value of avoiding traffic within a company, I can now not only connect to my intra-company locations, I can also connect with my vendors, customers, business services, etc. You're approaching a world in the next 10 years where a majority of the Fortune 5,000 can walk in a room and do business with companies in India, the Philippines, China, etc.


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