TelePresence: video teleconferencing gets real

Cisco_day_2008008 Quickly: Cisco's high-definition video conferencing  TelePresence system will change how large companies communicate.

Last week I avoided a trip to California by having my one-day meeting with Cisco leadership via TelePresence. This is the company's next generation video conferencing. It features high-definition video, exceptional sound, and specialized rooms with the conferenced individuals "sitting" around a table with the live participants -- the pic shows my team in Boxborough MA conversing with John Chamber's team in San Jose CA. Everyone is life-sized, and the experience is a close emulation of an in-person meeting. Cisco has deployed 240 systems worldwide and has staged 120,000 meetings -- for a claimed cost savings and productivity gain of $150 million. The company calculates that it eliminated 24 million cubic feet of carbon emissions as a result.

The system got high grades from our meeting participants. If in-person is 100% and traditional video conferencing is 40%, the attendees put TelePresence at 80%.

Here are the pros:

1) Beautiful experience. Great sound, great video, great environment. Not at all unnatural. Like good surround-sound movie projection systems, the great sound enhances the experience as much as the video.

2) Very natural. If you look at a person, they will see you as looking at them.

3) You get into it. I found myself forgetting that this was video.

4) I've always found using traditional video conferencing to be tiring. You have to make an effort to make the meeting work. With TelePresence there was no protocol overhead.

5) At the time, you know you're on video. In a strange warp, six hours later you remember the meeting as if had been in-person.

6) It's idiot-proof, or should I say, CEO-proof (they're probably the same thing).

7) Integration of presentation materials was seamless.

And the cons (...and I know that some of these are nits, but I noticed them):

1) It's tough to have side conversations -- and especially hard to whisper with live attendees.

2) No business card exchange. Sounds stupid, but it was missed. I can never remember who I met with unless I've got their coordinates in my pocket.

3) I get a lot of my meeting value with side conversations. When I meet with CEOs I often talk to them "unplugged" as we walk out of the meeting. You can't do that here.

4) Less bantering, humor, chit-chat -- the oil that lubricates most in-person human interaction is missing here.

5) I felt self-conscious eating my lunch on video. High def means that the other side sees all, including the mayonnaise on your upper-lip.

6) Video is a famously "cool" medium -- meaning that too much affectation can look ridiculous. When I started waving my arms and shouting out my "brilliant" insight to John Chambers and company I'm sure that I looked somewhat crazed -- more so than I would in-person.

7) It's hard to take notes on your computer -- all of that clicking gets picked up by the mics.

Despite my reservations, I think that this technology is a winner. Instead of a box in the corner of a conference room, the system is integrated into the meeting experience so that those on the video get equal treatment with the in-person crowd. It's expensive ($350,000 of equipment plus $200,000 a year to operate -- Verizon's going to love this baby), but in an age of expensive oil, rising travel costs, and demands to have more meetings in less time, TelePresence could make a big difference for intra-company communication. And with AT&T now in the picture to bridge TelePresence systems between companies (see Forrester's analysis) there's more value to come.

Has anyone else out there used the technology? If so, what are your impressions -- I'd love to get your thoughts.

Comments

TelePresence: video teleconferencing gets real

I'm still unsure of the difference between "Telepresence" and "Videoconferencing." Is the difference in terms used simply to point out that Telepresence is right at the top of high end video conferencing. I've seen references that suggest that Telepresence is "real time" which confuses me as what video conferencing system isn't in real time thats the whole point of it it no?

TelePresence: video teleconferencing gets real

Will this technology include 3D advances?

re: TelePresence: video teleconferencing gets real

Might I suggest that we might 'clear the air' in D.C. if our elected officials stayed home to get a sense of 'reality' for the problems that they could represent from 'virtually anywhere'...I'd sure like to claim the hot air(global warming?) and carbon offset credits for this one suggestion...where do I sign up... or sign THEM up?

re: TelePresence: video teleconferencing gets real

I think costs would be much lesser if another technology was used. I do not undertand what the hype about a thing that NetMeeting with multiple monitors (since win2k) have done for years at an insignificant cost, and better, with standards (h323, etc.). What is the "standard" of this Cisco "tele-presence"? Cisco "own" standard?If tele-"presence" is about image size and multiple monitors, I think NetMeeting does that for long.Quality? well, put NetMeeting in the SAME ip route this meeting have done, and compare. Do not compare them over different links (like one OBLIGATED to have QoS as Cisco "requirements" for the "experience" and the - poor cousin - NetMeeting over regular, old plain web links...)

re: TelePresence: video teleconferencing gets real

Another business value that speaks to increased use of telepresence are the valuable meetings that would never take place because of time constaints. At my former employer, we used telepresence for analyst relations, conducting analyst briefings that would have had to taken place over the phone with much less effectiveness (including one with Forrester's Josh Bernoff and another with a group of Forrester analysts at a Deep Dive). Frequently the spokesperson just could not take the time to get on a plane to HQ for a one-hour briefing. Telepresence gave us the ability to do these briefings - sometimes with individuals in three different cities - with little loss in effectiveness.Note for Marcelo in the previous comment - I have used standard video conferencing, Netmeeting, etc. None of the other technologies come close to making the impact that telepresence does. This is truly a "see it to believe it" situation.

re: TelePresence: video teleconferencing gets real

Hi,I have been tasked with designing a video teleconference room. Do you know what is the best system for the least amount of money ? I have $30k to get equipment, projectors screens and sound.Thanks

re: TelePresence: video teleconferencing gets real

I believe Telepresence will explode over the next year. Telepresence will pick up where "stigmatized" video conferencing left off.The video "purists" aren't going to like it, but the public will drink this Kool-aid. It is impressive.JMO

re: TelePresence: video teleconferencing gets real

Carter perhaps makes the most compelling point for those with any doubts -- you really do have to see TelePresence in action to believe that the experience is beyond compare to any prior videoconference solution.Regarding the up-front investment to deploy systems, there's a couple of multinational service providers who are already building networks of public TelePresence rooms. The "try it before you buy it" model has proven to aid in the adoption process of new technology.Moreover, once a decision to invest in private rooms has been made, there's always the managed service solution to TelePresence -- which offers yet another way to embrace the technology and fully reap the ROI benefits.

re: TelePresence: video teleconferencing gets real

The high price tag seems to suggest that it is more suitable to be deployed in Kinko/FedEx or the like across the country/globe for customers to pay-by-the-glass.

re: TelePresence: video teleconferencing gets real

Interesting story today on use of Cisco's telepresence to audition musicians. That sounds like a lot of faith in the audio capabilities! I saw the story at http://telecoms.cbronline.com/news/southbank_sinfonia_to_hold_remote_aud...