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What Is Telepresence?

telepresence explained

Telepresence can be defined as the ability to share audio, data and video with a distant site or sites as though the person were truly in the same room, across the conference table from you. Telepresence is an immersive experience providing the ability to have a meeting that is as good as being there. What makes telepresence different from traditional video conferencing relates to how the audio, video, document sharing, control systems, room environment, and transport are handled. Telepresence video is high definition full motion to give the viewers the feeling the remote people are literally across the table from you.

Audio Quality

To go beyond audio associated with traditional video conferencing the audio quality needs to allow for users all talking at the same time with no clipping, lack of echo, the ability to reproduce low and high volume levels and not reproduce others (i.e. a whisper), and the ability to reproduce left and right conversations in order to identify which user is speaking. In other words, the audio sounds like a group of people in a meeting room. Some talk over others and there is no hesitation in the speech.

Video Quality

With conventional video conferencing participants typically convene in rooms configured to include elongated or u-shaped tables. The on-screen result is that some people appear close while others are barely visible, so the camera must be continuously adjusted to capture images as people speak. When this happens, the technology becomes intrusive and distracts attention away from the communications at hand. Even those traditional video conferences, where participants are seated around a boat or banana shaped table so they are equidistant from the screen, still lack the clarity of a telepresence system because the images and audio are not as crisp and clear and the technology has not been designed to be completely user friendly.

Another factor that plays a role in having excellent video quality is latency. Latency is a fancy word for waiting time. Real-time interactive applications, like video conferencing, are sensitive to accumulated delay, which is referred to as latency. Latency results from everything that sits between the origination of the sound and the ear of the person listening to it. The human brain wants to feel that interaction is real. Achieving imperceptible latency is a critical requirement of a true telepresence solution.

Control Systems

Control systems for video conferencing products have traditionally been action-specific (user-directed instructions "pushed" to individual parts of the system) and not function-oriented (an integrated solution querying users regarding their needs in a "pull" scenario). All users want to do is have a flawless meeting and not have to deal with the technology by pushing buttons or accessing menu screens. With telepresence technologies users are better able to meet without having to control anything. While minimal control is also possible with traditional video conferencing systems, it is not the norm. More often someone needs to take control of the meeting technology or the meeting tools available to the participants are not frequently used. With some telepresence systems services are provided by remote administrators who manage and monitor the call and provide advanced feature services for the participants.

Room Environment

Unfortunately, many organizations do not put enough emphasis on the room environment in which video conferencing technology is placed. This often results in distant sites being unable to clearly see or hear the other end. The lighting is not optimized for video, resulting in shadows on faces, and the room is not properly treated for sound absorption, resulting in poor audio. Organizations that pay close attention to the room environment, whether in a traditional video conference or a telepresence meeting, have a better meeting. Environmental issues needing to be addressed include: room dimensions, furniture and equipment placement, table shape, room acoustic treatments, fabric selection, colors, lighting design/placement, number of participants per room, and intent of usage (multi-purpose or dedicated).

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