Telepresence is Dead! Long Live Telepresence!


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Telepresence is Dead! Long Live Telepresence!

An Expansion of my Remarks at the Visual Communications Industry Group Conference.

By Howard S. Lichtman, Publisher – Telepresence Options

Telepresence is Dead! That’s the meme that’s been going around the Internet lately to explain why the industry has seen a slowdown in multi-screen, multi-camera telepresence group systems. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

First, let’s address the slowdown: According to a report by Infonetics Research that came out in late September, revenue from the enterprise telepresence and videoconferencing market dropped six percent to $644MM in the second quarter of 2012 with Cisco taking the biggest hit with revenues down 17 percent and a five-point loss in marketshare. IDC reported that Immersive Telepresence sales collapsed 38 percent in August. Both Polycom and Cisco closed their quarters with revenue declines of about eight percent on group systems. Wainhouse Research shows multi-camera, multi-codec shipments have declined to 2008 levels after seeing a peak in 2010.

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Sounds bad, eh? Keep in mind that this sales decline in the two most expensive (and sophisticated) providers of visual collaboration solutions on the market comes at a time when less expensive upstarts like Vidyo are reporting they are growing at four times the industry average. In addition, the decline comes after telepresence group systems became one of the fastest selling new product classes in telecommunications history even with a price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars per room so there was probably a little market saturation. Also, the decline in both room systems and multi-camera, multi-codec systems comes during a global economic depression which has seen demand destruction across virtually every industry. Finally, the visual collaboration industry is expanding rapidly with a host of new visual collaboration solutions from relatively new companies: Zoom, Spranto, Ten Hands, FuzeBox, Vu Telepresence; major Chinese players (such as Huawei and ZTE) making their first significant push into foreign markets; and established companies that have never had a visual collaboration offering before or are expanding into delivering their own solutions, including Brother, AVI-SPL and Adobe Connect.

The reality is that for an industry experiencing Shumpeterian creative destruction at the speed of light (both figuratively and literally), a flurry of new entrants, and a global economic depression, that sales remain relatively steady and most analysts see continued investment and growth. Research and Markets is predicting the industry will grow at a CAGR of over 27 percent between 2011-2015. Infonetics sees spending of $22 billion through 2016. So reports of the death of telepresence have been greatly exaggerated.

The more important issue is that telepresence should not be defined by the sale of multi-screen, multi-codec group systems at all. Our definition of telepresence conferencing is: “Visual collaboration solutions that address the human factors of participants and attempt to replicate, as closely as possible, an in-person experience.” Under that definition, the revolution is very much alive and kicking. At the VCI-Group conference in Monterey I polled the audience of visual collaboration architects from some of the leading companies, universities, and governmental agencies in the world, including Accenture, Mitre, Pfizer, Penn State, the Cleveland Clinic, and NOAA, among others. I asked how many would dream of deploying a visual collaboration environment today and not addressing the human factors of participants to the greatest extent they could afford. Not a single hand went up.

The industry has exploded with innovations that improve the human factors of visual collaboration experiences while the cost of high-quality components such as: HD video codecs, large format displays (65 inch and larger), and ultra-bright DLP projectors are dropping like rocks.

Here is a broad survey of some of the many innovations in the human factors of visual collaboration from both industry and academia.

Altia just announced on Kickstarter its PanaCast, a panoramic camera with a 200-degree capture, and it funded in two days.

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ProjectionDesign just came out with a ultra-wide panoramic projector.

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Microsoft Research is working on technologies that project on all four walls, an augmented-reality display called the Holoreflector and a lens technology called wedge optics that can be embedded in the screen at eye-level to solve the parallax issue.

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Japanese telecom provider NTT is experimenting with rotating semitransparent screens.

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U.S. start up Revolve Robotics is doing something similar with iPads.

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Visual collaboration is getting integrated into virtual worlds where avatars can interact in a shared virtual space including shifting to a videoconferencing experience between participants. Virtual business worlds are a form of “telepresence” in-and-of themselves.

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Danish researchers are exploring mediated spaces and sketching

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I’m working with Herold Williams, the inventor of the TeleSuite (now Polycom RPX) on a technology that will bring the farthest participants in an elongated conference room “up close and personal” while improving both gaze angle and meeting format. Williams also has designs for a highly immersive telepresence environment that could be deployed in the $130,000 range.

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The telepresence revolution continues!

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We are gearing up to continue our coverage in the next issue of Telepresence Options Magazine which will be printed in late February and put into the mail March 1 for delivery to 100+ countries this year. You can subscribe for free at www.TelepresenceOptions.com/magazine. If you are interested in advertising in the issue, we just kicked off our 2013 advertising program.

Howard S. Lichtman – Publisher & Editor-in-chief

Howard S. Lichtman is a visual collaboration-focused technologist, author, publisher and consultant with specialties in telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration to improve organizational and personal productivity. He is the founder and president of the Human Productivity Lab, an independent consultancy and research firm that helps organizations design telepresence strategies and deploy telepresence solutions. He is the editor-in-chief of Telepresence Options Magazine and the monthly Telepresence Options Telegraph, the world’s most widely read publications focused on telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration technologies.

Mr. Lichtman is also the author and/or co-author of the Telepresence Options 2011 Yearbook (2011), The Inter-Company Telepresence and Videoconferencing Handbook (2009), The Telepresence and Videoconferencing Exchange Review(2010), Telepresence, Effective Visual Collaboration and the Future of Global Business at the Speed of Light (2006), and Emerging Technologies for Teleconferencing and Telepresence (2005). He is currently working on Telepresence Options 2013.