I remember a time when videoconferencing was big.
Hook up a TV, some camera and audio equipment to the network, and voila, one can bid adieu to long-distance travel and say goodbye forever to jetlag, right?
During the few years that I was with my previous company, I never witnessed any instances of videoconferencing being used. The TV and the expensive videoconferencing equipment in the main meeting room simply gathered dust, just like the laserdisc machine in my storeroom. Service providers at that time were charging sky-high prices for the use of video streaming over fat pipes that did not even guarantee zero buffering and network jitter.
While I'm sure there were some (extremely) wealthy MNCs using the technology, most companies continued to travel the distance for critical meetings and held conference calls or Web meetings for less urgent ones
So I was pleasantly surprised to see real videoconferencing in action when I recently attended a press briefing at Hewlett-Packard's Halo Collaboration Studio here in Singapore. HP launched its Halo e-conferencing package in New York last year, touting it as an improvement over traditional videoconferencing technology.
HP drew from its experience in developing color science, imaging and networking technology, and built the concept for Halo with the help of its long-time partner DreamWorks Animation, the maker of animated films such as Shrek and Madagascar.
While my colleague, who was at the launch last year, reported some slight transmission delay during a live demonstration, I saw no such problems this time.
This was most evident during the question-and-answer session with HP U.S. executives, which went on so smoothly that I couldn't imagine that they were more than 10,000 kilometers away, as I stared at their life-sized images on the plasma screens.
So popular is videoconferencing that the room is often overbooked, HP says. Companies like AMD and pharmaceutical giant Novartis also have Halo facilities. At an estimated setup cost of US$550,000 per room, Halo studios don't come cheap.
But it's the closest thing to that notion of real-time virtual meetings, a.k.a. videoconferencing, which I've so often heard about.
At CommunicAsia this week, we'll continue to hear of more technologies that will enable real-time communications. I just hope they are practical applications that are both affordable and easy to use.