Cisco

Cisco TelePresence: Not your average virtual meeting

Using a telepresence meeting room is like taking a step into the future. The technology creates near-lifelike virtual conferences, allowing people at opposite ends of the earth to communicate as if they were in the same room.

With traveling expenses rapidly approaching the absurd, companies are looking for alternatives to the "actually being there" type of meeting. That's where telepresence comes in. Telepresence is a suite of technologies that allow people to interact virtually, with an emphasis on being as realistic as possible. Earlier this year, TechRepublic contributor Deb Shinder wrote an overview of this technology in the post "Telepresence: The next best thing to being there."

Cisco's version of virtual meetings

I'd like to shed some light on Cisco's version of this amazing technology, having just completed training on TelePresence (Cisco uses a capital P). I've been in San Jose this past week under the careful tutelage of Roger McLain, of McLain Consulting, and Casie Lantz, of Ascolta Training (Cisco partner), learning how to install and maintain a TelePresence meeting room. Throughout the class it was easy to get excited about the technology, and it didn't take much imagination to visualize everyone using some form of telepresence in the not-too-distant future.

To prove my point, I'd like you to watch the Cisco video "Next Steps in Global Business." Or for the CSI:NY fans out there, a Cisco TelePresence suite was used in "Episode 415 of the fourth season." My personal experience with the technology has more than convinced me of its value. TelePresence definitely isn't just another video-conferencing system (remember this is Cisco) as the realism is striking. The system used in each of the videos was the CTS 3000, which is designed for use by up to six participants per room and depicted below (courtesy of Cisco):

cts3000.jpg

Cisco also has versions such as the CTS 1000, shown below (courtesy of Cisco), which is sized for small group meetings and one-on-one conversations that take place in smaller satellite offices.

cts1000.jpg

Also, the CTS 500, shown below (courtesy of Cisco), is designed for one or two users in a private office. I find the CTS 500 particularly interesting; it's easy to visualize this model being in everyone's home. It can function as both the main HD television and the family's telepresence endpoint, allowing communications with relatives and friends in a very realistic manner.

cts500.jpg

Realism starts with the room

In order to obtain this realism, Cisco's TelePresence requires the conference room to adhere to stringent acoustic and lighting requirements. Cisco has expended a great deal of effort to quantify what's required, and the result of that effort is what Cisco calls a Room Readiness Assessment. Trust me on the importance of this as Roger worked with the class for a whole day on how to analyze a potential meeting room. The following topics are some of the criteria examined in the assessment:

Lighting: Cisco has determined the optimal lighting requirements to portray the room and its occupants realistically. By using the room assessment, lighting engineers can develop a plan to remediate the room so it's within Cisco guidelines. Acoustics: This part of the assessment is the most in-depth and by far the most interesting. During the training, I was told to clap my hands in the classroom and once again in a TelePresence meeting room. Wow, the difference was dramatic. Roger mentioned that the main emphasis is on removing as much reverberation or echo as possible. Bottom line, Cisco wants the audio characteristics of every TelePresence room to emulate those of a high-end recording studio. Repeatability: I didn't feel repeatability was that important until I actually took part in a TelePresence meeting. I now understand why Cisco strongly suggests that the rooms involved in a TelePresence meeting look identical. It's to give the illusion that everyone is in the same physical room, allowing the participants to concentrate on the meeting and not the technology. Next up, network path assessment

It doesn't take much of a stretch to realize that this type of technology will need a bullet-proof network to handle significant streaming multimedia traffic. Again, Cisco has developed a very detailed network assessment procedure to guarantee that once in place the TelePresence endpoint will work correctly. Some of the service-level requirements are:

Latency: Less than or equal to 150 ms Jitter: Less than or equal to 10 ms Packet Loss: Less than or equal to .05 percent

The maximum bandwidth required is different for each system. For example, the CTS 1000 requires 5.5 Mbps when the video resolution is 1080p. The CTS 3000 requires 15.3 Mbps again at 1080p. I learned something quite interesting about streaming multimedia. Packet size and packets per-second are variable, depending upon the amount of video and audio activity. More movement results in larger packets or more packets per second. Cisco uses this knowledge to create special algorithms that deal with packet shaping, queuing, and policing, resulting in optimal bandwidth usage and more than adequate QoS.

Features specific to TelePresence

That's enough about the room, it's time to move on to the good stuff. Let's look at the actual system. All versions of Cisco's TelePresence have the following features:

Video displays: The system integrates 65-inch high-definition plasma displays using 720p or 1080p resolution. The CTS 1000 uses one display, while the CTS 3000 uses three. The CTS 500 uses a 37-inch LCD display in order to meet size and space constraints. The display size is important, allowing remote participants to appear as life-size images. HD cameras: Research has shown that having realistic eye contact is paramount to the meeting experience. With that in mind Cisco has developed its own high-definition camera systems (H.264) to provide that capability. Audio system: On that same note, the audio has to be spot on as well, allowing participants to use normal voices, sounding like a normal conversation with everyone in the same room. In order to precipitate this, the TelePresence has incorporated a very neat feature. TelePresence coordinates the audio so a remote participant's voice emanates only from the speakers located by the image of that participant. It may not seem like much, but this approach allows other participants to immediately recognize who is talking and direct their attention toward the image of that participant. Finally, the CD-quality audio system complies to G.711 and AAC-LD (22 kHz). Meeting invitation: To schedule meetings, TelePresence uses calendar invitations via e-mail to notify participants and coordinate with Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM). Keeping the process simple allows the participants to respond to a TelePresence meeting request in a familiar manner. Also, by synchronizing with CUCM, all that is required to start a scheduled meeting is the touch of a button. What's in store for Cisco TelePresence?

I've been in the IT industry for a long time and have been fortunate to earn a living working on networking products like those offered by Cisco. Therefore, visiting Cisco headquarters was an especially meaningful moment for me. Kevin Nguyen, a Cisco demonstration engineer, even gave us a tour of the Executive Briefing Center. I was grateful for the tour, and the idiom "kid in a candy store" comes to mind.

Whew, Cisco is not just about routers and switches to be sure. As we toured the various TelePresence meeting rooms, Kevin made mention about the next generation of TelePresence. It's simply amazing; for a glimpse into the future check out the YouTube video "Cisco TelePresence Magic," which features CEO John Chambers and Senior Vice President/General Manager, Emerging Technologies Group, Mathin De Beer.

Final thoughts

Telepresence is definitely a disruptive technology that will have a huge impact on how people around the world interact. I for one hope it will help eliminate confusion and misunderstanding among all of us global citizens.

About

Information is my field...Writing is my passion...Coupling the two is my mission.

36 comments
ann.dunkin2
ann.dunkin2

Have you seen the HP Halo suite... I suspect its more expensive, but its also more realistic. Screens are much larger then these, taking up the full height of the room and making it much more like being there.

vhold8
vhold8

It sounds like no one actually really knows the half of it. And for the few who may have seen demos..get ready! :)

frank.domnick
frank.domnick

Telepresence might be the next best thing to reality, but what about tele-smelling your meeting partners or tele-patting them on the back ;-)) Frank

JCitizen
JCitizen

in media/movies every since Star Trek and even the goofy '60 Thunderbirds series; but seeing the video did help one consider how the new technology has caught up. Now when I think of our old audio conferences they seem quite antiquated now. I would definitely have different objectives in the way our audio/visual conference room were designed then. For now I am redesigning my own entertainment center at home, perhaps I should rethink this plan with this new data in mind. With or without Cisco's ideas. There is a lot of competition in this area already. Some of my inbound communication partners have already at least upgraded to 3Mbps; not exactly HDTV ready, but their are ways to compensate, I reckon. Upgrades to all our partners, including me are rapidly becoming a reality - this could happen sooner than later! Thanks Michael!

seanferd
seanferd

It looks amazing. Thanks for the heads-up, Michael. I'd missed this blog so far, but I see that my TR Net. Admin. newsletter is also headlining this article. As it should. It looks like Cisco, and some other companies, have finally gotten telepresence together. Really together. If this takes off, and it should, just imagine all the energy that can be saved. Of course, I find the tech interesting in itself. Go telepresence!

walshd3
walshd3

This article on Cisco was very well documented. It would have been nice to simply make a very brief mention of who the closest/proximate competitor with respect to delivering all-around functionality and scalability of product mix. Desmond

dv7941
dv7941

Telepresence has been involving for years and it's nice to see a big name like Cisco leading the way. Broadcast and Production Studio like techniques help ensure a successful customer experience. The H.264 standard completes the transmission aspects for sustainable throughput. And Cisco algorithms help with sizing the packet. This is the new age for Video Conference now called Telepresence and it's great stuff!

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Somebody is never happy until they put their geek specs into the article.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I've just completed a week long class in Cisco's TelePresence. It's virtual meeting technology similar to Skype video, but a whole lot more realistic. Have any of the members every used or seen TelePresence in action?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Cisco Telepresence is more expensive if my sources are correct and I personally feel that Cisco has a better system. Especially when considering audio, but I may be a bit subjective. The one issue that needs getting used to is that the monitors have a frame around them and that eliminates the feeling of being in the same room.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I see your point, I sincerely hope those types of meetings will still take place when required. Cost and practicality will always limit the occurrence of face to face meetings though. I see this technology as FUD removers, allowing people an opportunity to better understand each other. I'm sure everyone deals with improper communications being the reason for any or all of the ensuing problems.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

As expected all of the major ISPs are excited about this technology as it requires bandwidth and that's how they make money. Cisco is in a major push to create algorithms that are even more efficient. They've already dropped the streaming multimedia requirement from 15 Mbps per plasma screen down to 5 Mbps, and that's HD audio and video (1080p)

JCitizen
JCitizen

17" laptop shows the possibilities! What is it going to look like on 65" LED laser DLP!

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Did you check out the YouTube video. That's even more incredible to me. Gotta like holograms.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I was torn about doing that as I don't have any actual experience with the other systems. I've heard that HP's Halo is the closest competitor. Actually Cisco is playing catch-up in this technology. http://h71028.www7.hp.com/enterprise/cache/570007-0-0-0-121.html Some other vendors are Nortel and Teliris. I've also heard that their systems are above average. http://products.nortel.com/go/product_content.jsp?segId=1&parId=1&prod_id=64202&locale=en-US http://www.teliris.com/solution.html?gclid=CIOa49TZkJQCFQ6S1QodzxcitA Two big things that Cisco has going for it is Call Manager technology and TelePresence being completely compatible with Cisco's networking equipment.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Perchance did you take a look at the YouTube video that used TelePresence and hologram technology? That's very cool and more life-like than any other hologram applications I've ever seen.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I truly consider myself very lucky to have been perused by my friend Balthor. Thank you.

Dr. Tarr
Dr. Tarr

Cisco built a great product, as long as the only folks you want to communicate with are other TelePresence users. The CTS 500 is a nice looking system, but I suspect that the average home user would be better served by a standards compliant system from a manufacturer like Tandberg or Polycom that does not require a remodeling project or a communications path that I have never seen delivered outside of a dedicated network.

frank.domnick
frank.domnick

Well, as you might already have told by my smiley sign that I didn't mean my posting all too serious. Of course telepresence will make it's way and I believe that it is going to fill a gap between "pysically meeting" persons and "just talking" to them. Let's above all not forget that telepresence is another means of saving time and - best of all! - energy!

seanferd
seanferd

I wonder if the general meeting quality will improve, as it might be cost-ineffective to have meetings run by poor leaders and attended (or not!) by less-than-attentive participants. During the introductory period, I suppose that the use of telepresence would be more heavily scrutinized than your average departmental meeting, and I might suppose that most telepresence will be used by higher-level types who are very focussed ans "all business". I just wonder what will happen when the tech becomes ubiquitous. Will folks go back to showing up late, answering cell phones, playing with PDAs, doing non-relevant paperwork, or having meetings with no clear purpose? Or will telepresence cause participants to be more focussed most of the time?

seanferd
seanferd

It was supposed to increase bandwidth using the current pipes.

seanferd
seanferd

Actually, I had managed to miss that link in the article, so, once again, I thank you for the alert. I had been thinking about the conference environment requirements, as it struck a chord in my memory. I now know what the memory is: Armstrong ceiling tile data sheets. They always had a slew of data on the acoustic and lighting properties so that one might know which product best suited the customer's purposes. At the time I was exposed to these data sheets, telepresence had never entered my mind, although I had been reading about it, mostly applied to surgical venues. While I suppose that consistency, as is well applied to a conference environment, was not a consideration in a surgical environment, there must be factors that affect the image quality which were never discussed in what I read. I find this all quite interesting, and I wonder what steps are taken for the quality of various non-social types of telepresence.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

During the class we were told that the Telepresence forum and all the major players are working together to develop interoperability. I also was under the impression that Polycom was as proprietary as the rest and even requiring the endpoint to use Polycoms servers to start and run the meeting. If I'm wrong could you please correct me. As for room remediation,I suspect that's more important in the larger settings. Another Orange engineer at the training recently participated in an 18 seat Polycom install. He mentioned that Polycom requires an even more stringent room assessment.

seanferd
seanferd

and cheaper than air fare. It will fill a gap, and then begin expanding to either side. I think that you've pointed out, or 'crystallized', an interesting concept here (gap-filling), at least for me.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I truly believe that telepresence is a major disruptive technology. It will be interesting to watch how it all unfolds. As an optimist, I see it helping more than being another "camera in the sky".

seanferd
seanferd

Perhaps the existence of telepresence will improve "local" meetings as well, by dint of best practice used for long distance meetings. I think the idea of "rent-a-presence" could be quite profitable, as well as a way for organizations that can afford a telepresence suite to try it out inexpensively. It sounds like a very good business model, IMHO.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I hope one of their chairmen read this! =) They are everywhere, even out in the vast wasteland, where I live. If nothing else the hotel business convention group should wake up and smell the coffee!

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

The whole embodiment of telepresence is to get realistic eye contact. As it allows everyone to have a pretty good idea as to the thoughts of the other person. My son has taken several psych classes and its almost scary learning the things I didn't pay attention to about body language and the eyes. I'm sure good leaders know all of this and use it to their advantage. The only thing that I see as possible scary is that this could easily turn into "big brother". Every workstation having a telepresence system and you know the rest. It's like any new technology having the possibility to be used for both good and bad. I also see a new business model coming into existence as well. Places like Kinkos that are ubiquitous around the country could setup rental telepresence meeting rooms. Then companies that can't afford or do not need to have a full time room could schedule a meeting there. Also businesses that have a Telepresence room could rent it out if it's not being fully utilized, similar to data center rack space.

JCitizen
JCitizen

against Net Neutrality if a cheap way to get more bandwidth were realized; that is why it dropped off the radar! I wouldn't doubt they would like to buy him out and sit on the technology just tip the balance to their way of thinking. People used to accuse the oil companies of such behavior and after the way this energy crisis is being handled I believe them too!

JCitizen
JCitizen

The good old prediction made clear back in the seventies is now finally in fruition!

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

In the class we received manuals that were chocked full of building material information with reference to light and acoustical characteristics. We have to publish that information in the Room Readiness Assessment. Cisco then looks at that along with our ambient light, noise, and finally reverberation or echo assessments to determine if and how the room should be remediated. It takes almost a whole day to complete a room assessment.