Posts Tagged ‘video conferencing’

When Life Imitates Virtual Reality

June 17, 2008

A few days ago, I had the priviledge of getting a live demo of Cisco’s new Telepresence technology.

A few words about that first: Far be it from me to tout just how great a new product may be but this one knocked my socks off. The call was initiated with one tap of a touch screen. The connection between New York and San Jose was instantaneous. I mean really instantaneous. The three 65 inch HD plasma screens lit up with the folks at San Jose speaking on them in less than a second. Faster than I have seen any connection made. There was no lag, no buffering, so streaming issues. It was just live people on ethe other end.

Now what makes the experience even better is how they orchestrate it. The screens are set in a room with the same colors on both ends: a drab place with chocolate colored walls, plain surfaced table and very regular shaped, simple chairs. The screens are placed in such a way that the people you see are displayed at the same size as if they were sitting across a table in the same room with you. The illusion is completed with widely diffused lighting that softens and blends all shadows making for an experience in which you feel as if you are actually in the same room and you can reach out and touch the other person.

After 2 minutes of marveling at the impact of the technology, we fell into a normal meeting with all the in room dynamics of body language and the nuances of expression that only live can bring. The technology no longer existed. That was what made it magic.

And then, it hit me. The walls, the lighting, the surfaces, they all looked drab and plain and smooth. Just like in virtual reality applications that are dependent on low computing power in order to render images like that in real time. Cicso has taken a page from virtual realities lesson book and applied that to the real world in order to digitize it. It was an observation that surprised me. I had often wondered on how we can better make a virtual, artificial world look more real and never how we can make the real world mimic the artificial ones in order to benefit what we have learned about data compaction and transfer.

Kudos to Cisco for thinking this through and making this happen.

The sad part is that the costs are horribly prohibitive for all but large companies at this point. I do hope that the costs can continue to drop rapidly and we can all soon be speaking on the vidi-phones we first discovered on the Jetsons, at Epcot, Star Trek and even in the early scenes of Total Recall.

The future is here. It just isn’t widely distributed.