Interop
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10/25/2007
09:01 AM
Elena Malykhina
Elena Malykhina
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Telepresence Doesn't Have To Cost A Fortune

The concept of "telepresence" is brilliant when it comes to meeting your peers face-to-face without ever having to step foot on an airplane. But not many companies are willing to shell out $300,000 to put such a system in place. That's why one startup, called LifeSize, caught my attention at Interop when it showed off its affordable high definition videoconferencing system.

The concept of "telepresence" is brilliant when it comes to meeting your peers face-to-face without ever having to step foot on an airplane. But not many companies are willing to shell out $300,000 to put such a system in place. That's why one startup, called LifeSize, caught my attention at Interop when it showed off its affordable high definition videoconferencing system.I was walking around the Interop show floor when a woman sitting at a desk waved to me and said "hi." I also greeted her and only then realized that I was talking to a HDTV screen. The woman turned out to be a LifeSize employee, demonstrating the company's videoconferencing system from Texas through a live 1 Mbps Internet link.

What's most appealing about LifeSize is the affordable price and much better quality than standard Web-based conferencing systems. While LifeSize claims to offer "telepresence" quality, I must say that it depends on the screen you buy and surrounding environmental factors. A large HD screen can create an illusion of a person being present in a room with you. But a smaller screen with multiple outputs doesn't always deliver realistic colors and a clear picture.

Cisco requires customers to build an entire studio for its telepresence system, so that the lighting, sound, and picture appear very lifelike. Cisco's three-screen system can cost around $300,000. A system from Hewlett-Packard starts at $200,000. As a comparison, you can get a LifeSize system for $6,000 plus the cost of a HD screen.

LifeSize this week expanded its HD video product line with three new offerings: LifeSize Express, which does point-to-point video, supports up to 1.5 Mbps, and costs $6,000; LifeSize Team MP, which does multipoint video, supports up to 2.5 Mbps, and costs $9,000; and LifeSize Conference, which uses multiple monitors and has a telepresence configuration, supports up to 15 Mbps, and costs $45,000.

Price definitely has been a deterrent for smaller companies interested in implementing telepresence. Looks like change is right around the corner as more affordable options like LifeSize become available.

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