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Digital Video Enterprises Launches Executive Telepresence System with HSL's Thoughts and Analysis

May 16, 2006 | HSL

Digital Video Enterprises Executive Telepresence System.jpg
The Digital Video Enterprises Executive Telepresence System
Courtesy of Digital Video Enterprises, Inc. copyright 2006

Digital Video Enterprises has officially launched their Executive Telepresence System, a 40-inch system that provides a life-size image, an invisible camera, and true eye-contact. DVE has partnered with LifeSize Communications to offer a bundled solution that combines the DVE true telepresence display technology with LifeSize Room, LifeSize's high definition camera and codec. Here is an excerpt from the press release which should cross the wire today with my emphasis on what I believe to be some of the key info:

IRVINE , Calif. - May 16, 2006 Digital Video Enterprises, Inc. (DVE) DVE, the world's leader in True Telepresence conferencing, announced today the launch of a revolutionary new personal conferencing product. The Executive Telepresence System (ETS) is the culmination of more than a decade's effort in creating the world's best conferencing systems. Unlike web cameras and common videophones, the ETS delivers an amazingly realistic and natural experience. The ETS provides real-size images of people in high definition appearing to be sitting on the other side of your desk. The patented display, included with the ETS, ingeniously hides the HD camera behind the image so that perfect eye contact can be experienced among the participants. Legacy conferencing systems have a camera mounted to the sides which creates the impression that people are looking down, up or to the sides. The ETS also delivers the highest quality video and audio. Included with the Executive Telepresence System is the LifeSize Room high definition video communications system from LifeSize Communications. "For years we delivered HD and DVD conferencing solutions to select customers around the globe, yet the cost to own was out of reach for nearly everyone until now. LifeSize Room is a revolutionary product, delivering high definition quality at 1Mbps and better quality at any bandwidth," stated Jeff Machtig, co-founder of DVE.

The complete press release can be found Here.

DVE's excellent white paper: What is Telepresence? can be found Here.

Pushing DVE ETS Unit.jpg
The DVE Executive Telepresence System with Full Locking Cabinet Visible
Courtesy of Digital Video Enterprises, Inc copyright 2006

HSL's Thoughts and Analysis

First, let me start out with my standard disclaimer whenever I post on any of Digital Video Enterprises' solutions: I am a member of Digital Video Enterprises' informal and unpaid Board of Advisors. What this means is that I am personal friends with Jeff Machtig and Dr. Steve McNelley the two co-founders of DVE who occasionally seek my counsel which I am happy to provide because of their important work in the field of telepresence and effective visual collaboration. The release of the Executive Telepresence System is but yet another example.

I have had several "AHA" moments since I have been in the visual collaboration and internetworking industries that I liken to the experience that Steve Jobs must have felt when he first touched a mouse at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in 1979. One of those experiences was walking into an early TeleSuite System at AOL. Another was sitting down in front of an early DVE true eye-contact display at the now defunct TeleCon West trade show in Anaheim in 2002.

32 Inch Virtual Presence Display 5-24-02.jpg
Early Digital Video Enterprises True Eye Contact Display

In 2002 the cabinetry was wood, the image was a self-view of whomever was sitting in front of the display, and the experience was unforgettable. There was something a touch magical about having eye-contact in a videoconference that, at the time, I didn't really grasp the full significance of. Over the years Dr. McNelley, a psychologist who had done his doctoral work on the importance of eye-contact in videoconferencing, would educate me on the science and psychology of eye-contact in human communications. Here is my Executive Summary:

Eye-contact is chief among the body's non-verbal cues. From infancy we are biologically drawn to the gaze of our parents establishing a preference for personal communication that continues throughout life. Eye-contact between humans is physiologically powerful eliciting changes in blood pressure and heart rate and increasing brain activity. The information transmitted through eye-contact is rich and varied:

- Eye-gaze provides many communications fundamentals including: feedback, conversational regulation (turn taking), and the expressions that punctuate emotion.
- Mutual eye-gaze has been described by psychologists as "the key to the awareness of the thoughts of another"

The amount of eye contact exhibited by an individual has been proven to affect their perception in the eyes of others. Persons with strong eye contact are perceived to be more honest , attractive , and successful . Conversely, psychologists refer to individuals with poor eye contact as "gaze avoidant personalities" and they are rated less favorably in the eyes of others.

I can't tell you how many times over the years that I have had someone from the traditional videoconferencing industry attempt to downplay the importance of eye-contact in human communications because their product doesn't offer it. If we are speaking in person my stock response is always the same. Without saying a word I will simply avert my gaze less than 5 degrees and focus on their forehead while we are talking. This experience usually lasts less than a minute before the other person says: "OK..OK..You made your point.. Please stop". There is something psychologically unsettling about speaking with someone whose eye-contact is off by even a smidgen. Try the experiment with a friend or colleague.

Back to the Executive Telepresence System

In my humble opinion, the DVE Executive Telepresence System offers the most realistic reproduction of the face-to-face interaction to which the human brain is accustomed in a system designed for an executive office or small conference room. While I haven't seen the ETS running with LifeSize's High Definition Camera and Codec, I have seen the LifeSize System running in other venues and can only imagine that the combination of the two is something akin to the marriage of peanut butter and chocolate. If there is a downside to the ETS it is its price relative to the expectations that have been set by traditional desktop videoconferencing systems. Because DVE is a relatively small shop production runs are short which makes the price relatively expensive. The system is $12,900 for the true eye-contact display alone or $29,000 for a turnkey system bundled with the LifeSize high-definition camera and codec.

I have a feeling that in the same way that people's expectations changed about the price of a cup of coffee once they experienced a Starbuck's Caramel Macchiato, expectations of the cost of desktop videoconferencing will change once they have experienced the high-definition, true eye-contact experience offered by the ETS.

Which brings up Digital Video Enterprises' greatest hurdle: Unfortunately, telepresence and true eye-contact are an experience and very few people are able to grasp their importance without actually...experiencing them... With DVE's limited resources there are very few locations in the world where a prospective customer can actually sit down in front of an ETS to get experienced so distribution will remain more of a challenge than the cost.

What DVE needs most of all, as a company, is a "Big Brother" with deep pockets to help with further productization, manufacturing, distribution, and demonstration locations. More sophisticated manufacturing and larger production runs would get the cost down but while everyone in the industry knows about DVE everyone seems to be waiting for someone to invent a way to embed the camera in the display or some other way of getting around DVE's intellectual property portfolio that essentially covers all aspects of delivering eye-contact in the most feasible way available today! I believe that is easier said than done and I think one day in the near future someone is going to realize the true value of what DVE offers and the potential benefits of getting Jeff and Steve some real R&D money, snap up the company, and leave everyone else that took a hard look but didn't pull the trigger kicking themselves in the groin.

As more and more becomes known about the ROI of telepresence and effective visual collaboration I believe that even DVE's price points of today will become less and less of an issue. Outfitting 10 members of the senior executive leadership team of a Fortune 2000 company for $300,000 isn't that much money... Especially when you can lease the equipment over a number of years with its attendent tax advantages. In addition, if there is one lesson that I learned from my time on Wall Street: There is always a market for the best...

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