An avatar?the Sanskrit word for the incarnation of a god on earth?is an image you select to represent yourself in a teleconference. Avatars can be cartoon characters, photographs or, as in the case of Matrox Graphics\u2019 new "head-casting" technology, a photo-realistic animated image.Available in the company\u2019s new Matrox Virtual Presenter software, head-casting lets users create PowerPoint slides narrated by shoulders-up animations of themselves. Each lifelike 3-D persona, driven by the user\u2019s own voice, is displayed in high-definition with complete lip-synchronization.The system requires two photographs of the user\u2019s head to create an animated 360-degree model. The technology can be used with dual displays?the presenter on one screen and the slide show on the other. In a single screen setup, the presenter appears inside a resizable window that can be placed anywhere onscreen.Matrox created the head-casting technology by combining 3-D photo-animation software developed by Digimask with audio-based personal agent technology created by LIPSinc. The software requires a PC running a Matrox Millennium G550 graphics card. The system can run over a 56Kbps Internet connection, although a broadband link will provide more jitter-free animation.Matrox isn\u2019t the only company developing sophisticated avatar technology. Microsoft researchers are working on a way to use a digital camera to scan a PC user\u2019s head into a 3-D image. Sophisticated software would then add a full range of facial expressions to the image. Microsoft believes the technology has multiple potential applications in teleconferencing, online customer support, interactive kiosks and role-playing games.