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Can a conference over video ever feel like a real face to face meeting? That was the question posed on Wednesday by Tandberg, a company which specialises in visual communication.
A group of six gathered around a table at the Barbican Centre of Excellence, London, to debate just how immersive video conferencing can be. Across the table, another group of six faced them to join in the debate ” only the second group were in Staines.
The two groups were able to communicate with the help of built-in microphones and high quality cameras. The cameras perched on top of three 50-inch screens which were joined together, forming one long screen stretching the length of the room.
Tandberg are the first to admit that video conferencing has had a ”chequered history,” said Steve Beckley, a regional support manager for Tandberg. Even Simon Egan, the vice president of Tandberg”s Western Europe branch, admitted the technology is still ”in its infancy.” But despite my natural scepticism, after an initial awkwardness, it did seem like the Staines” group were on the other side of the same room. Perhaps that”s why there”s a 90 per cent conversion rate ” most of those who try it, buy it.
The sound was clear. The image wasn”t fuzzy. The panel”s faces weren”t green. Their bodies were life-size and there was no time delay, either, like you might experience with cheaper internet options. It all seemed very, well, normal. Add to that the time, money and carbon omissions saved by video conferencing compared to conventional business travel and it does seem rather tempting.
The green benefits of video conferencing are also being promoted by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and World Wide Fund for nature (WWF). All of these groups have published reports pushing the Government to integrate video conferencing technology into the UK”s transport infrastructure ” so soon you may no longer need to be restricted to the same room for each meeting.
Dominic Hook, director of information and communications technology for the union Unite, is a trial customer of one of Tandberg”s video conferencing products. He said: ”As a user, telepresence means you can see the panel; it”s like you”re in the same room but you just can”t make judgments about someone”s shoes.”
You can”t shake hands, exchange business cards or go for after work drinks, either. And the three screens joined together ” to allow meetings to be conducted in three or four different locations at any one time ” are separated by thick black frames, which is distracting.
The eye contact too, was slightly off ” on one occasion Simon asked me a question but I had to clarify it was me he was directing it to. It”s for these reasons that Dominic said: ”You need to have met and worked together already first, you can”t replace that.”
But for subsequent meetings, video conferencing offers a viable alternative to a four-day business trip to Hong Kong ” albeit one with enormous start-up costs.
The three-screen Experia, pictured, is Tandberg”s most superior product and costs approximately ”200,000 with installation.
For more information, visit tandberg.com.