Telepresence Today and Tomorrow
The new systems deliver the audio-video experience that people have always wanted, though there is still some distance to go with respect to interoperability and ease of use.
WHAT IS TELEPRESENCE?
While the concept of videoconferencing-based "telepresence" has been around for over ten years, "telepresence" really entered the mainstream of enterprise consciousness at the end of 2005 when HP announced its Halo telepresence studios. Enterprise awareness then accelerated significantly a year later when Cisco entered the market promoting its CTS 3000 three-screen system and CTS 1000 single display system. Cisco's marketing and PR thrust was clearly intended to create a new market category dubbed "telepresence" and to then position Cisco as a leader in a new, exciting, and high growth segment. At the same time, Cisco's apparent strategy was to distance the company from videoconferencing, a solution set the company positioned as a 20th century failed technology. By any measure, it would appear that the company’s marketing strategy was overwhelmingly a winning one. Given Cisco's enormous clout with C-level executives, IT professionals, and the business press in general, the company was largely successful in grabbing attention (and market share) while at the same time creating confusion among the enterprise end user videoconferencing community.
Before the end of 2007, many of the established videoconferencing vendors felt compelled to react to the Cisco marketing juggernaut. Polycom, for example, re-labeled any of its systems capable of supporting 720p as "telepresence;" Tandberg defined a telepresence system as any system having a 50 inch screen after claiming that the company had shipped over 10,000 personal telepresence systems (previously known as executive systems) . Other vendors began to make claims about their "personal telepresence systems," many of which were high definition solutions based on laptops with webcams.
Wainhouse Research took a different approach by claiming that telepresence was just the high end of a videoconferencing spectrum and was not really defined by product attributes, but rather by the experience. In short, there is no such thing as a telepresence product, but there are telepresence solutions. We offer the following definition to the industry:
Telepresence is a videoconferencing experience that creates the illusion that the remote participants are in the same room with you.
HOW DOES TELEPRESENCE RELATE TO VIDEOCONFERENCING?
We believe that in order to provide the telepresence experience, a videoconferencing system must:
1) deliver life size images of remote meeting participants,
2) display remote images in the proper position and with the proper perspective, and
3) provide high quality audio and video signals.
To clarify our definition and the market segmentation, we have created the following diagram in order to properly position telepresence vs. videoconferencing vs. product segments.
Figure 1. Positioning telepresence versus videoconferencing
This diagram highlights the fact that there are multi-codec and single codec room systems and that multi-codec systems today represent the high end of the familiar group videoconferencing market. While most customers think of telepresence and multi-codec as the same thing, the vendors, particularly Cisco, include many single-codec systems (previously known as videoconferencing systems) as part of their "telepresence" offerings.
In fairness to the vendor community, nearly all of the multi-codec systems were originally designed to provide the "same room" illusion. Hence, they were sold as tightly-configured systems and installed in carefully controlled environments (sound, lighting, wall treatments, etc.) in order to provide a consistent, high-quality experience. In short, the original "multicodec" systems were sold to the telepresence buyers as fixed systems.