Last week at Interop 2005, there was a lot of buzz on HD video conferencing from multiple vendors. Polycom was suppose to be doing some limited HD demonstrations in their booth, but I didn't actually see any HD demos while visiting their booth. Going over to the next booth however, a new startup called Lifesize did nothing but HD conferencing demonstrations and I was blown away when I saw their live demo displaying a video image on a large LCD monitor at 1280 by 720 pixels at 30 progressive frames per second. Surprisingly, the image of a man moving around was actually someone across country in Austin Texas coming over a 1 megabit per second WAN (Wide Area Network) connection which is very feasible for most corporations. I will need to offer a disclaimer that the Lifesize demonstration was done with optimum studio lighting and minimal motion on the Austin side, but if HD conferencing is anything close to what I saw, then I want it now! Their local demo unit had the same resolution, but the color was slightly off when I looked at myself in the monitor, but Lifesize assured me that this was still a beta unit and that the bugs will be worked out by production time.
In reality, there is only so much video information you can theoretically encode with 1 megabits per second and normal broadcast HDTV utilizes about 28 megabits per second and even that is already highly compressed video. But for video conferencing, we're mostly concerned about the transmission of talking heads with a static background and this is what makes it possible to compress HD video down to a 1 megabit stream. Before I saw this HD demo, I had thought I was already in heaven looking at the existing broadcast quality standard definition conferences over 1 megabit links. Now that I've seen HD, I'll never be satisfied with anything less again.
The Lifesize video conferencing product is ready for a launch this fall starting in September. They will offer two video conferencing products, a desktop model that will cost about $8000 and a "room" version that will run about $12,000 which happens to be priced the same as a current standard definition video conferencing solution from Polycom. The room model is designed for corporate board rooms and will output to an analog VGA port which you can feed in to a high resolution LCD/Plasma panels, rear projector, or digital projector. There is also a converter that will convert the VGA port to component RGB (Red Green Blue) cables but I really wish they had included a DVI port so that no quality would be lost when transmitting video information to the display. The video camera uses a very high resolution single CCD (Charged Coupled Sensor) and can cover a very wide area. You will also need to get a good display that can support at least 1280 by 720 resolution and will cost an additional $2000 to $15,000 with the projectors on the cheap end and LCD/Plasma panels on the expensive end. The bottom line is, you will be able to put an HD video conferencing system in your board room for well under $20,000. Don't expect Polycom or Tandberg to stand still in the HD conferencing market and they're probably not far behind, but this startup may just beat them to the punch.