Cisco enters high-end video conferencing market

NEW YORK – Cisco Systems has launched a video conferencing hardware line that boasts twice the visual quality of high-definition television and the ability to view life-sized people at the other end.

At a recent demonstration, Cisco launched the first two components, models 1000 and 3000 of TelePresence Meeting, which includes 65-inch plasma displays with 1080p video, cameras, codecs, sound system, lighting and furniture.

Version 1000, which costs US$79,000, is designed for meetings of up to four people in a regular office. Version 3000, which costs US$299,000, is designed for meetings of up to 12 people (six in two separate locations); it includes three plasma displays and requires a specially designed room. Both are scheduled to ship within the next month, said Charles Giancarlo, chief development officer and senior vice-president at San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco.

Cisco designed the lighting and desktop to make users more life-like to those at the other end. Cisco sells the table with the system to ensure the colour is consistent in all conferences. “We make everything but the chairs,” he said.

One industry analyst who attended a demonstration said it’s difficult to get an idea of the quality of the product without seeing one in action. “To be honest, I went in pretty skeptical,” said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of enterprise research at Boston-based Yankee Group. “I’m not an enormous video conferencing fan.”

Kerravala said he was impressed with TelePresence, because the room setup, lighting and acoustics improved the overall quality. “It wasn’t the same as being there, but it was awfully close,” he said.

Cisco CEO John Chambers said the company wanted a conferencing product that lets users see subtle patterns of body language on the other end.

Giancarlo said TelePresence has very little delay, and users on both ends can cut into the conversation with comments. “Interruption works great in this environment,” he quipped.

Cisco is currently working on a certification program for carriers, which is designed to ensure their networks are able to support TelePresence, which requires about 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth.

Verizon Communications plans to test it over its private Internet Protocol and Ethernet networks.

Verizon’s Private IP service, which is available in 115 countries, has five separate classes of service and is designed to give priority to video traffic using multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) technology.

AT&T Corp. is also running trials of TelePresence over its IP MPLS network and may include the product in its network integration and managed video communications services.

Cisco claims the 1080p video is six times better quality than regular television, and twice as good as high definition television. TelePresence requires a Cisco IP phone, which is sold separately.

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