Blog Archives

Telepresence vs VideoConferencing

I suspect it is about time I chimed in on this definition thing on this blog.

I had an unfortunate “job” interview yesterday and it got me to re-evaluating a lot of things.  The job was to install “telepresence”.  After a few seconds of questioning  I realized that it was not “telepresence” they wanted, but, plain old vanilla “video conferencing”.  Unfortunately, I was told I was “not qualified” to install it….thus, the re-evaluation. Getting old really does suck…avoid it all costs!

But, with age comes wisdom…and also the lack of fear to express my opinion, now more than ever….

One thing I need to do (now I can check this off my bucket list) is to give you MY definition of the difference between telepresence and video conferencing.  (The pictures shown below are totally random….so don’t get all upset about what vendors are being shown…:-))

Telepresence: A very expensive room with a wonderful “experience”

Video Conferencing: Everything else from mobile to conference rooms

You get the idea….



Vidyo Videoconferencing Virtualization

A Short History Lesson by Mike

Back in the old days (1980’s) video conferencing was developed to help people at two locations meet face-to-face without the need to travel.  Wow!

One day, someone said “Geee, I need THREE locations to meet face-to-face”.  And the idea of a multipoint controller (MCU) was born.  Now all three locations could dial into a central MCU and meet.  Double wow!

Over the years, the MCU’s got bigger and more powerful, and, more than three geographically dispersed people could now meet at the MCU.  Triple wow!

More years pass, and the bandwidth needed to support all these people meeting at the MCU got more affordable and again the MCU’s got more powerful.  Tens to Thousands of people can now use the central MCU to hold their meetings (At ESnet we supported over 1,500 users worldwide, and over 6,000 port hours of H.323 meetings per month….in 2004!).   Quad wow!  (ok…get over it, everyone now knows about video conferencing…)

Present day….

The MCU’s are powerful as all get out (and very expensive to buy and run).  The bandwidth availability is through the roof, and more and more people are using video conferencing to meet at a central location.

UNFORTUNATELY (FORTUNATELY?), we are also at the cusp of an amazing increase in the number of people using video conferencing.  Mobile phones now have video conferencing capability, laptops abound, the working world is becoming decentralized (we still need the OFB’s to retire), and there will be a time (in the very near future, if not now) when millions of people will be video conferencing at the same time.

With the ancient centralized MCU model….I have to spend GOBS of money to support millions of users.  And now, we want to support those users in HD quality. An almost impossible task for the tried and true centralized MCU.

Low cost, multi-platform compatibility, support millions, keep HD quality…..yikes!

We need a better way….

Luckily, the folks at Vidyo are thinking ahead (no surprise here, since I know many of them from WAY back, and they are very very smart).  OK, kissing ass aside….:-)

The other day, Vidyo actually asked little old me to join them in a discussion of their new virtualization technology for the VideoRouter.  (VidyoRouter Virtual Edition….sounds like a video game….:-)), and a couple of days ago they made the official announcement.  (Vidyo Unveils Virtualized HD Video Conferencing PDF).

A quick lesson (or at least, for me, to see if I get this right)

Virtualization in the video conferencing world can come in two flavors:

Macro and Micro (I think I am the only one using these terms).

In the Macro sense….multiple MCU’s can work together (and even be geographically dispersed) to support large numbers of users.  Problem is: expense and possible loss of quality.

In the Micro sense….a single server can be used to provide virtual space for large numbers of users (but also can be inter-connected over the space time continuum).  The key is:  You save lots of money and possible gain in quality.

Vidyo, if I get this right, is providing virtualization in the Micro sense.  That is, their VidyoRouter is now able to support (and yes, I asked about multi-tenant) many many video conferencing users from a “simple” server, based just about anywhere.  Firing up more capacity is as easy as firing up another server, or part of a server.

Lower cost, faster time to introduction (assuming the IT Department cooperates), and this can support (eventually) millions of users.  

A brave new world….

Moving forward.

In the very near future, we all will be using video conferencing (my dream finally coming true…see here).  We will all be able to meet with family, friends, colleagues, repair people, Kauai travel agents….no matter where they are, what time it is, or what capabilities they have…all in HD quality.

Bravo, Vidyo!  (Hmmmm, not the first time I have been blown away by Vidyo…see here).

Footnote:  Way back in the day….the folks at Cal Tech (Philippe Galvez) developed a software based MCU capability, VRVS (now EVO, soon to be Seevogh (thanks, Christian!!)), that was WAY ahead of it’s time.  It worked great and supported thousands of users….all in software.  Just sayin…

Video Conferencing Product Reviews

Video conferencing / Telepresence  “no bull” product reviews from an objective, regular user, perspective.

FREE….all I need is for you to:

**Deliver (or send) the product (with EVERYTHING I need to make it work) you want tested to my office (or send me a login).  Or if you are in the Bay Area…I can visit your location.

**I will test the product from set-up / installation, to real-world use (evaluating key features & product support), to tear down.

**I will give your product a “WaterTower” rating from 0 to 5.   See my Rating Rubric here.

**Send your potential customers to this review.


All reviews will be posted on this blog.


I’ve been doing this for years (way before starting this blog in places like DVC Magazine, Teleconference Magazine, New Media Magazine…..more).

++Check out almost everything I have written about videoconferencing since 2006 or so.

++See ALL the Product Reviews posted on this blog.

DVE Telepresence

Looking at LinkedIn the other day, I ran across a familiar name (I must be getting old, but, I think I remember them from like 1999, 2000?), DVE Telepresence,  and decided to take a peek at the videos.

NOW…you know me….I think driving to a room to sit in a meeting with a bunch of boring talking heads (all in glorious high definition and at 60 fps) is well….stupid.

If, however, the room looked like this, and provided the 3D graphics for presentations that this one does…I may actually be tempted to drive there (ok, shoot me now!), at least once, maybe even twice.  🙂

In fact, I may drive to LA to try to see this room in action (Oh, there goes my carbon footprint)…But, tell me this ain’t awesome?!!


Holographic video conferencing is close, very close.

Where is Yoda?

Video Conferencing Products & Services Update: Cisco / Tandberg

Cisco/Tandberg Overarching Philosophy (my take)

Corporate, high end, “Telepresence”

What I Think of When I Think of Cisco / Tandberg

Routers / Reliable Video Conferencing Hardware

Product Line

Tandberg has been around the video conferencing industry….well, forever.

Cisco is a late entry that, in my own very humble opinion, was kinda lost in this industry. Then they bought Tandberg which I thought was a great thing (time will tell, however). Hopefully, Cisco will (should) let Tandberg, a world leader in video conferencing, do it’s thing.  Again, time will tell.

Thanks to Tandberg…Cisco now has an IMPRESSIVE range of video conferencing products (from endpoints, to infrastructure to cameras to purses (not!)) and services (cloud based Callway looks VERY cool) that is mind boggling in depth and breadth.  The only lacking component that I can see is an iPhone or Android based mobile app (UPDATE:  I have been told that a sweet app will be coming out Q1-2012).

Cloud Based Callway

You may be able to tell, but, I am a huge fan of cloud-based video conferencing (even though Clint and I are out of work).

Cisco offers two services that they claim are cloud based.  One called “Intercompany Cloud Services” just does not resonate with me as a true cloud based service, the other “Callway” is potentially exciting.

The information on the web site about Callway is very Marketing oriented which means I could not find a whole lot of technical information.  My request for information has as yet gone unanswered.  NEWS:  I understand that my old Polycom PVX will not work with Callway. Arrrghh..

Sooooo….lacking technical details on the web, or a call back from Cisco….the number of endpoints that can be supported by Callway is unknown (but it looks to be 5 or more), the resolutions Callway can support is unknown, what endpoints it supports is unknown, and coverage areas / limitations (if any) are unknown.

HINT:  Cisco needs to put up a spec sheet on Callway!  🙂

But other than that…the marketing on Callway makes it seem cool, and cloud vc  is great (…as long as it works).


The endpoints span the cost spectrum from a <– laptop based Movi to multi-thousand dollar “immersive telepresence” rooms.

The emphasis, again in my opinion, seems to be on the high end “immersive telepresence” systems.  But even the “personal telepresence” (now there is a term I coined!) systems tend to err on the side of high quality video and audio.

An honorable goal!

The Movi is an excellent video conferencing application for your Windows based computer.  I tested it briefly a while back and found it to be, hmmm, I said this already excellent.  It can give you 720p resolution at 30 fps, and great audio with a full range of audio protocols.  I connected my test Movi to an H.323 system in Chicago just fine and had a nice trouble free, stumble free conversation.  Movi requires you to connect to a server at your company, so it is not a “stand-alone” like us old-timers are used to.

Moving up (in cost).

I have to tell you….I always loved the style, reliability, and video / audio quality from the standalone Tandberg desktop T-1000.  The range of desktop stand-alone units has increased.  And the style has remained.   The “telepresence extension” (whatever that means) E20 is shown to the right.   Very cool.

Other products that can be used on the desktop include the “Personal Telepresence” 1700, which looks to be a computer sized monitor with a camera on top.  That unit has a built in 4 way MCU and can connect at up to 2 Mbps H.323  or SIP and has “embedded encryption and H.235 and 802.1x authentication” (damn…I am getting old…I need to look those up!).  It also supports URI dialing (E164  This device can work in “stand-alone” mode.  🙂

Once again, moving up the cost chain (at least I think) is the EX Series of <—desktop “telepresence”  units.

These are bigger (for the bigger desks of managers I suppose?) and look really nice.  Video resolutions up to 1080p at 30 fps and 720p at 60 fps mean you can play indoor football and everyone will see the action.

The EX Series supports H.323 and SIP at up to 6 Mbps (!!) and the EX90 (as opposed to the EX60) has a built in 4 way MCU.  The EX Series supports H.460.18 and H.460.19 firewall transversal.  (I seriously doubt that Andrew Davis would pass up a Porsche for an EX90.  Just sayin…)

There are bigger room “personal” systems for higher management “Executive Office” where the offices are, sometimes, immense (like my 1700 sq foot office).  You can go to the web site to see the Cisco Telepresence 500, and Cisco Telepresence 1100 to find out more about them.  I’m tired.  🙂

Moving up, there are room based systems: Cisco Telepresence MX200 and Profile Series that can serve a small or medium sized conference room.  The MX200 –> has a 42″ monitor and both can support up to 1080p at 30 fps and 720p up to 60 fps.  They support H.323 and SIP and support a full range of video and audio standards.

At the highest cost level and the most ambitious are the “telepresence” rooms Cisco is famous for.  I would hope that they are all standards based now that Tandberg is involved.

Using H.264, the Cisco Telepresence System 3010 for example (and I hope it is representative of the others) connects to H.323 and SIP endpoints and gives you 1080p or 720p at 30 fps (so forget conference room football…just kidding…go for it!).  The 3010 sends graphics at 5 fps or with an optional graphics codec at 30 fps (can I show a movie?).  It support G.711 and AAC-LD at 22 khz, I would use the latter.  🙂

For those managment types who just love the “experience”….this system should be awesome.  For engineers working with a team of designers….come on…use your desktop (and WebEx) or mobile (did I already say that was needed?).

Whew!  I told you there was an EXTENSIVE lineup of products.

I’m tired and we are just now leaving endpoints…..but before I leave…the web site and data sheets mention data collaboration (H.239, etc), but, it is not emphasized (just look at the pictures).  Be it known that DATA collaboration is a very important part of effective collaboration as a whole (voice, video, and data), and Cisco / Tandberg does support data collaboration.  In fact, Tandberg thunk it up…

Take five…

Infrastructure Hardware (mostly)

OK…maybe I will shorten the examples a bit because if you thought there were a lot of endpoints, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Yikes!

I have to post this picture, because, well, I was one of the first to get one and it worked like a champ for years and became the backbone of the ESnet video conferencing service (once Codian figured out how to give us 40 ports!).  Now there are a host of MCU’s (of all types, sizes and flavors) and other stuff they clump under “Telepresence Infrastructure” available from Cisco / Tandberg.  Go here.


There are several management tools available (it looks like one from Tandberg, one from Codian, and one from Cisco) to help you manage your endpoints, infrastructure, and calls.  I believe the original, stupendously great, TMS system is still still TMS but is now “Telepresence Management System” instead of “Tandberg….”  Go here for more info.

Under “Conferencing” comes the Content Servers, Gateways, IP VCR’s….etc etc.  Go here for more info.

And last….the cameras and other accessories (no purses, I’m actually shocked).


If you get this far….I will give you 5 “worthless” sub points!  They are not actually worthless, but, you need to redeem 50 points to get to pick thru the Treasure Chest.

My opinion:


Cisco was damn lost in the video conferencing industry.  Sorry.  The arrogance to introduce a “telepresence” system that was PROPRIETARY simply turned me (and I am sure many others) off.  And the cost of a “telepresence” room (and you needed TWO).  Yikes!

Tandberg saved their butts.  Now the line up of products, and services, and tools may be second to none.  And with the Tandberg reputation (I hope they have maintained their quality)…..Cisco done good.

Again, they need a mobile app, and I still think rooms (and severely costly telepresence rooms will fade away as the kids of today grow up).  The next gen worker will be video conferencing from anyplace, anytime, to anyone.  There is simply no need for them to drive to a fancy room to video conference….(UPDATE:  See the comment below for a link to “Cisco Jabber”)

Oh yeah…Mike’s Rule #56:  You do not NEED an “immersive experience” to get work done (you may WANT it…and that is fine).

It bugs me that Cisco marketeers are changing “video conferencing” to “telepresence”….but, I am an old codger….so maybe I need to get over it.  🙂


Telepresence Smellepresence

I have been following some (very lively) discussions lately and it occured to me that we might be losing sight of the real value of video, audio, data conferencing in our lives.

It is NOT all about super high definition video or audio (although good audio is important), and it is NOT about the most expensive, fanciest,  room you can build (or sell to someone).  Nope…

It IS about effective communication at a price YOU can afford.  Communication that allows YOU to communicate anytime, with anyone, from anywhere.  Communication that improves your life at work, at home, or at school.

You do NOT N-E-E-D super high definition to effectively communicate (you may want it, and if you can afford it…go for it), you just need to be able to effectively communicate at a cost that fits your budget and culture.

OK video is OK.  Good audio is important (but HD audio is not…sorry).  The ability to share data is important.  The ability to connect to any device is important.  Ease-of-use and the ability to work remotely as if you were face to face (“Hi, nice to meet you again, here are the documents I was talking about”) is important.

There are lots of great companies out there with lots to offer.  YOU need to filter the sales pitches and buy, or implement, the video conferencing application that suits YOUR needs.

LifeSize versus Cisco

Surfing the Internet and I found this interesting article on Bloomberg.

A snippet:

LifeSize Communications Inc., a unit of computer-mouse maker Logitech International SA (LOGN), expects revenue to jump as it competes with rivals including Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) to add clients in the videoconference market, set to more than double in the next five years.

LifeSize’s sales are forecast to rise two to three times faster than the market, which is expected to grow 15 percent this year, Chief Executive Officer Craig Malloy said in a phone interview. Revenue at the Austin, Texas-based company rose 34 percent to $36.5 million in the fiscal first quarter, making LifeSize Logitech’s fastest-growing business.

“We’re seeing very, very rapid growth in videoconferencing,” the CEO said. “We’re going to piggyback on key trends and accelerate our growth.” LifeSize is targeting $1 billion in revenue in coming years, Malloy said, without giving a precise timeframe.”

Now…I was around when the Wainhouse folks predicted multiple times (in the 90’s) that the video conferencing industry was going to be a $1 billion industry, so, truthfully, I do not listen to estimates anymore.

What I look at is what the companies are offering now and what they plan to offer in the future and see if that fits “Mike’s” idea of what I think is good or not.  I can be wrong, but, more times than not, I have been right.  Still poor…..but right, that has to count for something, somewhere.  🙂

Based on the research I just completed on LifeSize, and the research I am now in the middle of on Cisco (and, sorry, as much as I LOVE Tandberg)….LifeSize is probably gonna kick Cisco’s butt.

One (but not the only) reason why….see the top picture.

More to follow when I post my blog entry on Cisco / Tandberg in a week or so…

Just sayin….