On September 28, 2006, an article in Wall Street Journal (subscription required) provided a great overview of the 'telepresence' market, quoting Frost and Sullivan and arguing that the segment is different than the video conferencing market. Different because the products, networks and prices are different. It's important to note that the same week, the newspaper also reviewed the categories of corporate jets, including a new low-end (could a jet ever be low-end) aircraft suitable for commuter.
Instead of the usual video room of 1 TV for local and 1 TV for other endpoint(s), they roll out a wall of plasma screens, and arrange the table right along the row of monitors. The cameras are placed at the top of the monitors allowing direct or nearly-direct eye contact. The goal is full-size participants on the monitors, just like the TV anchor-folks use when they interview folks in other cities. Here's the AP photo from the online Wall Street Journal article.
Here they're talking about heavy bandwidth requirements, often exceeding 2Mbps. It's a direct connection of dedicated bandwidth, so there are no excuses for poor audio or visual quality. Of course, you're going to see it in the monthly cost.
Visual quality should be somewhat proportional to the $ spent. So, for HD-quality telepresence, expect to pay at least $500k per room. All those monitors, cameras and furniture are key to delivering the experience that puts this capability into the premium space.
Classic video conferencing is less costly to install (fewer monitors cameras and shared bandwidth) and operate, but there may be garbled speech, jerky video and room-wide cameras and monitors that make individual faces and their nuances hard to see.
Of course, desktop conferencing (which I was responsible for marketing at 3Com and FirstHand Technologies) is the poor man's telepresence capability. The MacBook Pro comes with a built in camera and free software too. Here is the Frost and Sullivan market forecast for video conferencing equipment, which doesn't include desktop conferencing products and systems.
Addendum May 31, 2007:
Blog chapter on IP video
Review of LifeSize
Video Conferencing at Interop, Las Vegas 2007
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