HP creates Halo effect

IT giant unveils a new product which, it claims, will "disrupt" the traditional videoconferencing market.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

NEW YORK--Hewlett-Packard on Monday launched a new videoconferencing product, marking its new ambition to become a leading player in the enterprise collaboration market.

Dubbed the HP Halo Collaboration Studio (Halo), the e-conferencing package encompasses digital visual products and collaboration software tools which, senior executives said, challenges traditional videoconferencing.

According to HP, Halo is capable of recreating realistic collaborative interaction through a unique deployment of color-calibrated visual experience, a key differentiator compared to traditional products.

Vyomesh Joshi, HP's executive vice president of imaging and printing group, said: "It's something we believe will not only disrupt the traditional video conferencing market, but will also change the way people work in a global market."

He noted that 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.

According to DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, the animation company first broached the idea to design a new solution because it experienced "great frustration" with existing products in the market.

"We found ourselves (after the terrorist attacks on 911) in a difficult position of having to bring together the right creative designers who were located in different places," he said.

"We looked for a conferencing solution but those in the market didn't fulfill our needs," he added. For example, with traditional video conferencing products, participants in a videoconference could not smoothly hold multiple conversations or share visual images of smaller details on physical items.

DreamWorks then approached its technology partner HP, and offered its expertise in enabling realistic visual interaction and "instinctual" collaboration, said DreamWorks Chief Technology Officer Ed Leonard.

Conference setting
Currently available only in one standard configuration, each Halo room is set up for six people and consists of three plasma displays and studio-quality audio and lighting equipment. Three cameras reflect images on the middle, left and right sides of the room.

Running on a 54Mbps T3 line, a typical Halo room is controlled via a centralized software interface which allows participants to switch between rooms and enable documents to be shared directly from their notebook computers.

Participants are able to see each other in life-size images projected on the plasma displays and use a dedicated camera to project and zoom in on physical products on a table. Although HP is marketing the product to have "no perceived latency", a slight transmission delay was apparent during a live demonstration with HP executives in London.

With the first test Halo room up and running since March 2003, DreamWorks has 10 of such rooms spread across its offices in California, Bristol in England and Hong Kong.

Leonard said Halo, used by the company's creative team during the production of Shrek 2 and Madagascar, is "changing the reason we need to travel". "For us, the returns on investment from the Halo rooms took six months," he said.

DreamWorks is looking to set up similar Halo sites in its new studios in Taipei and Mumbai.

HP has 13 Halo rooms set up across its offices worldwide, including Barcelona, Israel and Singapore--the only such site in the Asia-Pacific region. Videoconferences between its research and development (R&D) teams in Singapore and Barcelona now frequently take place in the respective Halo rooms, said Ken Crangle, HP's general manager for Halo.

"We can now meet more often and for shorter times," he said, noting that HP's imaging and printing group was able to reduce its travel costs by more than 2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2005. The company is expecting a 26 percent increase in the use of Halo rooms across HP in 2006, he added.

According to a study by Wainhouse Research released in October 2005, enterprises spend an average 12 hours per month using traditional videoconferencing equipment. Among Halo customers, which currently include chip maker AMD and food and beverage company PepsiCo, this figure increases to 131 hours, Crangle said.

Said Hector de J. Ruiz, AMD's chairman of the board, president and CEO: "We've been able to cut down on executive travel, and we are able to have impromptu meetings with colleagues located miles away." With plans to expand its Halo deployment to Europe and Asia, Ruiz said that AMD currently has two Halo rooms in the United States, one each in Austin, Texas and Sunnyvale, California.

Estimated to cost US$550,000 each if implemented in smaller sites, Halo rooms are probably outside the reach of smaller businesses. However, the rooms are available under a 48-month payment scheme where companies fork out US$30,000 per month. HP also offers payment plans for 36 and 60 months.

According to HP, the network and service for each room will likely cost US$18,000 per month, depending on local telecommunication charges in the various countries.

Crangle said the company is also exploring possibilities of offering Halo in varying room configuration, and will soon provide support for connection between multiple Halo rooms. Currently, users can only communicate between two Halo sites.

According to Crangle, HP and DreamWorks share the revenues from the sale of Halo, which falls under HP's imaging and printing group. This product group alone is worth US$25.2 billion, he said.

ZDNet Asia's Eileen Yu reported from New York, USA.

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