Check Out the Ferrari of Videoconferencing: Telepresence

Forget web videoconferencing as you know it. Think HD, large plasma screens, and life-size participants.

Think videoconferencing with muscle and you've got telepresence. This ultrahigh-end technology features HD, large plasma screens and fancy acoustics in a specially constructed room. Participants appear on the screen in life size and with zero latency, says Claire Schooley, a senior analyst at Forrester. Should this emerging technology be on your radar screen?

While telepresence may bridge the gap between meeting participants in a way that wasn't possible with traditional Web videoconferences, it's still cost-prohibitive for most companies. HP's telepresence solution, HP Halo, rings in at $425,000. Cisco's Telepresence 3000 (a six-seat, three-screen telepresence room) and solutions from Teliris, Polycom and Tandberg each cost around $300,000, Schooley says.

Add on monthly fees for a concierge service to operate the meeting and room (sometimes offsite), and you see that this doesn't suit a small organization. However, it's effective for an executive who makes frequent trips among global offices. "Since these executives would use first class fares, in the long run it's more cost-effective to do telepresence," she says. In industries where visuals are critical, telepresence could also earn its keep, she adds.

An alternative: Upstart firm Telanetix is winning some attention for its approach. Customers can get started for $1,000 a month on a financing plan, for a lower up-front investment. Telanetix says this makes its offering more attractive to midsize companies, as does the fact that its technology plugs into your existing meeting room, whereas the Cisco and HP products pose strict room and hardware rules.

Telepresence users are still relatively elite, but globalization and the increasing need for collaboration will drive demand, Schooley says, as will frustrations with overseas travel. Research firm Frost & Sullivan estimates that revenues in the North American telepresence market totaled $27.6 million in 2006 and are likely to reach $610.5 million in 2013.

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