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High-tech “telepresence” is changing the face of videoconferencing 6/01/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

It’s called “telepresence,” and viewers tuning into a recent episode of the Fox hit 24 saw a demonstration when Vice President Daniels and the Russian president had a crucial meeting using the latest and most advanced form of videoconferencing technology to date. “We’re just at the very beginning of something extraordinary,” says Mark Barounos, president of Hemisphere Expo Service, as well as host of the industry’s coming-out convention, Telepresence World, June 4-6 in San Diego.

“This technology has broad appeal to all industries, including broadcasting, because it allows people scattered around the world to experience face-to-face interaction no matter where they are.”

Don’t we do that now on video conferences? Well, yes, but instead of using comparably sluggish telephone lines and low-resolution Webcams or analog monitors, telepresence units feature hi-def, flat-screen monitors and broadband fiber-optic cable to ensure that voice and video are perfectly aligned.

Companies can design identical telepresence conference rooms across their organizations to give all participants the impressive––and slightly eerie––sense that everyone is in the same room.

The clarity and speed of the connection allow participants to see every facial expression in real time, and all but eliminate that irritating problem of people talking over one another.

Cisco Systems, which landed product placement in 24, will be among the two dozen vendors hawking their wares to the more than 300 attendees at Telepresence World.

Barounos says Time Warner, among other media companies, has made the largest investment in telepresence technology, but he expects others will soon follow suit.

Even more, telepresence could change typical TV interview shows. Telepresence technology would allow, for example, an anchor to interview several guests across the world, letting the guests see and interact live with each other.

At the conference, Martyn Lewis, former BBC anchor and current European chairman of Teliris, which manufactures telepresence systems, will discuss how the technology can find a place in newsrooms. But all in good time.

For now, telepresence will mainly serve as a communications device for office and sales meetings. But it will cost you. Systems supplied by the likes of Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Polycom and Tandberg cost roughly $300,000 each.

If Telepresence World is a major success, organizer Barounos hopes he soon won’t have to have another one like it. He adds, “I envision future conferences where several hundred people gather—at maybe five or six different locations.”

ATSC Moves Ahead With Mobile DTV

The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) has issued a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) to identify specifications for a new mobile digital-television (DTV) standard that will use existing DTV signals to deliver video and data to mobile and handheld devices. Detailed proposals for the standard, which ATSC is calling ATSC-M/H (mobile/handheld), are due July 6.

ATSC says it may combine aspects of different proposals into a final specification for mobile DTV. Harris and Samsung have already demonstrated competing mobile DTV systems.

Samsung VP John Godfrey notes that the RFP goes beyond the physical transmission layer of mobile DTV and encompasses encoding technology, middleware, receiver specifications and the like. He says Samsung will present a proposal for an end-to-end system that will provide functionality similar to what it demonstrated at the 2007 NAB show.

Since A-VSB transmission technology has already undergone lab testing and is now being field-tested under ATSC supervision at the Communications Research Centre (CRC) in Ottawa, Canada, Godfrey is pleased with Samsung’s position in the mobile DTV race. He adds, “We feel like we’ve got a big head start.”

UltraHD Moves to MPEG-4

Japanese broadcaster NHK has teamed with French compression vendor ATEME SA to conduct a public demonstration in Tokyo of its UltraHD next-generation hi-def format using MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) compression, and ATEME is working with NHK Labs in further development of the UltraHD standard.

UltraHD, which has drawn crowds at the last two NAB conventions, has a resolution of 7680 x 4320, some 16 times that of standard HDTV, and prototype, super-fast UltraHD cameras can capture data at a rate of 4,000 frames per second. The audio component is 22.2 channels, versus the Dolby Digital 5.1-channel audio used in today’s HD broadcasts.

The format is quite a bandwidth hog: 18 minutes of uncompressed footage consumes 3.5 terabytes of data; one minute of uncompressed footage, 194 gigabytes. ATEME’s goal is to use its MPEG-4 AVC compression technology to dramatically reduce the bandwidth requirements while maintaining picture quality.

UltraHD has entered public testing this year, with cameras, recorders, encoders and projectors under development. NHK projects that a full specification for the format will be ready by 2009, with satellite-transmission tests beginning in 2011. But be very patient: NHK doesn’t expect UltraHD to be ready for broadcast delivery to consumers until 2020.

SureWest Secures Content With Widevine

SureWest Communications, a midsize provider of voice, video and data services in northern California, has selected content-protection firm Widevine Technologies to protect its Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) services.

SureWest, which has some 20,000 video subscribers, will use Widevine’s downloadable conditional-access solution, which can secure content across a wide range of IP video devices. The company runs a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) IP-based network that provides more than 300 video and music channels and 19 high-definition channels, as well as a 50-megabit-per-second high-speed data service.

“Widevine’s ability to protect content delivered on multiple platforms and multiple formats enhances our ability to roll out new and improved services quickly,” said SureWest Senior VP/CTO Bill DeMuth in a statement.

Canadian Systems Tap SeaChange

Video-on-demand supplier SeaChange International has won a contract from the Canadian Cable Systems Alliance (CCSA), which serves as a programming-, hardware- and services-buying group for 88 independent cable operators across Canada, to be its exclusive provider for on-demand systems.

CCSA, whose companies serve nearly 1 million TV subscribers, will buy SeaChange’s Axiom on-demand management software, video servers and service, and technology for time-shifted TV, on-demand advertising and set-top box applications.

“Video-on-demand is absolutely part of the picture of complete subscriber satisfaction, regardless of the size of a cable operation,” said CCSA CEO Alyson Townsend in a statement. “Our partnership with SeaChange puts the industry’s best platform within reach of all of our members and exciting on-demand services within reach of cable homes across the country.”

The first three CCSA members to begin SeaChange deployments are Mountain Cablevision, which serves 40,000 customers in the greater Hamilton, Ont., area; Westman Communications Group, which provides service for customers throughout western Manitoba; and Nova Scotia-based Seaside Communications, which will deploy VOD to 14,000 subscribers later this summer.—Compiled by Glen Dickson

 

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