More than a year ago I wrote a post on “affordable telepresence” and the failing economy. You see, as much as the economy is regarded as a driving force towards visual communications adoption, it is quite a struggle to believe that a $300K system is a viable solution in the current economical state (and in general).
At around the same time as that post, I written about what telepresence is and what it is not. In a nutshell, ever since Cisco announced their Telepresence system (end of 2006), Telepresence has been distanced from “plain old” video conferencing as much as possible. The PR basically argued that video conferencing failed, and telepresence is the next big thing.
And the PR worked. By the end of 2007 most video conferencing vendors re-branded their high-end systems as “telepresence”, totally blurring the definition of telepresence. Then came “affordable telepresence” , “personal telepresence” (previously known as “executive systems”), “home telepresence”, whatever.
Personal telepresence with granddad?!
Telepresence – Out , Personal Telepresence – In
Wainhouse Research recently released a research note titled “The Telepresence Vanishing Act“, arguing that the telepresence as a market segment is disappearing, as it is not a real product or a product category, but a different “experience”. As the “standard” video conferencing systems, the room systems, are evolving rapidly towards 1080p video and big displays, as well as paying much more attention to lighting, acoustics and camera issues, the room system experience is converging with telepresence.
And if telepresence is no longer a big hype, and if the price ain’t right, there’s no surprise that at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 most vendors have rolled out low-cost telepresence-like systems. Cisco and LifeSize were probably the pioneers, back in 2008, with the LifeSize Room 200 and the Cisco Telepresence 500, delivering an impressive feature set with a reasonable price tag (The Room 200 was priced at $16,999). It was/is not telepresence, but a rather nice-looking HD video conferencing system. But go argue with marketers.
And with that “market it now, worry about the results later” spirit, and with price becoming an issue and telepresence losing its clear definition in the market, came the latest hype: “software telepresence”. Yes, there’s no mistake here – I’m talking about a software client, running on some kind of personal computer, marketed as “telepresence”.
You know by now I’m a big fan of desktop conferencing and collaboration infrastructure. After all, we are very proud of our software client. But sorry – desktop conferencing is NOT telepresence. And while it’s great to take a hit at Cisco, and comparing the low price tag of such systems to that of Telepresence, it is like comparing cherries to watermelons…
The Real Deal: Compatibility and Interoperability
Take, for instance, the latest release from Vidyo, the software video conferencing start-up. They recently announced the VidyoRoom HD-220, with a price tag of $6,995, claiming it can replace the $250,000 system that Cisco sells.
Dave Greenfield from ZDNet’s Team Think points out to the real deal here – it’s not the 1080p or the 60fps that counts; it’s compatibility:
“What’s still needed is a way to coordinate all of the different high-end video system. It’s not just a matter of supporting the H.323 video either…
Then there’s having to coordinate all of the other components that are possible in a video conference – screen display, acoustical mapping, screen display and the like. Vendors have different ways of implementing and then managing these exchanges.”
And, of course, there’s interoperability.
“All very nice, but the big issue here is compatibility. A video system that connects with one or two other offices is far less useful than one that interoperates with every webcam on every desk…”
And if I may be blunt here, there’s also the issue of the overall design and the logic behind the whole thing. These “software-based” solutions look just like they sound: a weird-looking server, with external components that don’t really fit the over-all design.
So while the server in the picture above looks ok, and has an appealing price tag, you may notice it misses some basic components. You know – the microphone, the camera, the data sharing cable. Yep, you’re expected to shop for the separate external components on your own. It’s just what Tsahi warned us about in a recent post – peripherals are a big headache.
Why Cheap Costs More
Just imagine going to a car dealership, and being offered a car with a great price tag, only it misses a few simple external components – wheels, gear, engine. But you know – any wheel will work here, and we support a variety of gears, and everyone sells engines these days. Would you buy such a car at that dealership?
Impressive as the price tag is, when you add the few necessities, such as an HD camera, a high quality microphone system, high quality speakers and a VGA connector (at least), such a video solution can cost more than $30,000. Or at least that’s what Dave Greenfield says.
And the bottom line: it doesn’t just feel like a mess, it also looks like one. Just compare the “complete” server-based solution with the slick Lifesize Express 220, that has everything built-in for less than $7000, and you’ll get my drift:
There’s an old Jewish saying claiming that “cheap costs more most of the time”. And while I strongly believe in affordable solutions, when it comes to a room system you better choose a room system grade solution, and not something that comes near and is marketed as such.
A software client is a software client, a room system is a room system, a telepresence system is a telepresence system – they each have their own characteristics, their own benefits, their own drawbacks. So don’t let the marketing people confuse you. Understand what you need, and choose appropriately.