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Designing Telepresence Spaces - ARCHI-TECH Article by Human Productivity Lab President Howard S. Lichtman

March 30, 2009 | Howard Lichtman

Designing Telepresence Spaces

Improve the illusion of in-person experiences by creating a telepresence space for your clients

By Howard S. Lichtman, President - Human Productivity Lab

A short definition of "telepresence" for the uninitiated: It's the closest thing to virtual reality for business meetings and distance learning (or "videoconferencing on steroids and acid," depending on the age of the audience). A more formal definition: It's a visual collaboration environment that addresses the human factors of participants, and attempts to replicate, as closely as possible, an in-person experience. Telepresence spaces are rooms, installations, and "experiences" built by companies like Cisco Systems Inc., Digital Video Enterprises, LifeSize Communications, Musion, Polycom, TelePresence Tech, and Teliris, and are connected in real time to a similar site somewhere else in the world, where the remote participants are life-sized with fluid motion, accurate flesh tones, and superb acoustics. The result is an experience that feels like you're sitting in the same room with someone on the other side of the globe, or watching a life-sized version of someone on stage.

The Digital Video Enterprises Telepresence Stage

The first thing that you need to know about creating unique telepresence environments is that it's hard to create unique telepresence environments. Part of the magic of telepresence conferencing is that most telepresence systems create a "business-class consistency-of-quality" for intra-company and inter-company business. Unlike traditional videoconferencing systems, where virtually every deployment is different with respect to lighting, camera capture, acoustics, display, etc., the majority of telepresence systems create environments that mirror each other perfectly, which improves the illusion of being in the same physical space.

Creating a telepresence environment from off-the-shelf components might save some money for certain customers, but you'd lose some of the magic in communicating with other established, widely deployed telepresence systems. This doesn't mean that there isn't a market for creating unique telepresence environments, but, truth be told, it's small (but growing). So, what's the current market for unique telepresence solutions and environments, and how will architects and systems integrators participate?

Telepresence Group Systems

The HP Halo Meeting Room - Six Seat Telepresence Group System

This is the overwhelming majority of the market. Telepresence group systems usually hold 6 to 18-plus participants who face 3 to 4 screens, a video wall, or an angled piece of mirrored glass called a "beam splitter." Many systems will fit into a standard conference room, but some require make-ready, including moving air ducts whose noise may interfere with the acoustics in the room. For most corporations interested in deploying telepresence, the best time to take the plunge is when building new, renovating/upgrading existing facilities, and/or moving a facility. This is the time when the large cost of the telepresence system - and any make-ready - can be capitalized into the big spend for the new facility. Some installations require a custom design to accommodate uniquely shaped rooms or other requirements.

A Teliris Custom Installation for a Uniquely Shaped Board Room

Pro-Modifying Existing Telepresence Systems

There are many potential improvements that can be made to existing telepresence systems, and many modular telepresence systems can be made better by improving the environments.


Polycom RPX 408M Floor Plan and Image of the Environment Under Construction

The Human Productivity Lab recently created a design for "Pro-Modifying" a Polycom RPX environment for a Fortune 25 energy company that creates a stand-up presentation environment with a podium in the RPX environment. The HPL design would allow an instructor to teach standing up and address local and remote sites "in the round," sitting at the table and being conversant with the remote site, and/or standing at an interactive whiteboard. The design addressed a requirement from the client to replicate, as closely as possible, a traditional classroom setting for the continuing education of petrochemical professionals around the world.�

A Standard Polycom 418M Telepresence Classroom

In addition to the environment, systems integrators and pro-AV professionals can help with integrating enhanced collaborative tools like visualizers, interactive whiteboards, and streaming encoders/decoders for high-resolution images and AV content. Telepresence vendors, such as Telanetix and LifeSize Communications, sell the basics (multi-camera/codec, control, and display), creating an opportunity for architects and pro-AV professionals to address the lighting, acoustics, color, and any company branding in the environment.

A LifeSize Conference 200
Ready for an Environment that Addresses Lighting, Acoustics,etc.

Specialty Telepresence Spaces


A 2006 Human Productivity Lab Design for Powwow Virtual

A Publicly Available Telepresence Conferencing Center

Telepresence environments are escaping from the C-suite and beginning to be integrated into publicly available spaces. Tata Communications recently launched a network of publicly available telepresence systems in Tata Taj Hotels.


Cisco recently built a proof-of-concept for a publicly available telepresence conferencing center in Santa Clara, CA: Cisco TelePresence Suites.� Expect publicly available telepresence to grow as the economy drives more airlines into the ground, making commercial air travel more expensive and less convenient while globalization continues.

Cisco's TelePresence Suites���������������������

Telepresence Installations


The "Telectroscope" in New York City

Telepresence is even appearing in outdoor installations. The Telectroscope delighted crowds from London and New York City who could interact with each other across the pond for several months.

While telepresence systems, applications, and experiences are relatively expensive today, virtually every component, including cameras, codecs, display technology, and bandwidth, is dropping in price.

As an industry, we look forward with eager anticipation to seeing what the architectural and pro-AV community creates with the growing palette of telepresence tools.


Howard S. Lichtman is president at the Ashburn, VA-based Human Productivity Lab, the world's leading consultancy on telepresence, telepresence managed services, and telepresence inter-networking.


Other Telepresence Resources for Architects and Systems Integrators:

Which Telepresence System is Best - A Telepresence Buyer's Guide from the Human Productivity Lab

The Telepresence Options Telepresence Industry Website Directory

Telepresence People

Brad Boston, Senior Vice President of global government solutions and corporate security programs for Cisco Systems, took home Federal Computer Week's Eagle Award for industry excellence and for overseeing the installation of Cisco's Telepresence technology in Wal-Mart department stores in the United States so families could see and talk with their loved ones serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking of Federal Government TelePresence, I just discovered that my buddy Kevin Giles, CEO of Vekner Consulting and former hard-hitting and "vocally enthusiastic" Wake Forest linebacker, is doing Cisco TelePresence installs for federal government clients.� The world is one big telepresence hot tub!

Dennis Murphy, the former Executive Vice President of Managed Services at AVI-SPL, has been enjoying his time on the bench but is looking to get back into the game.��

The New York Hall of Science received top honors as TANDBERG's "Video Champion of the Year." Other category winners included the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Cicero-North Syracuse High School, the University of Minnesota and Secure Telehealth.


Rose Klimovitch - Vice President of Product Development and Product Management at telx,

Umar Sear - Telepresence Architect at TANDBERG,

Rachel Book - Lead Consultant - Strategic Staffing Initiatives at AT&T,

Hymed Besrour - Sr. Mgr of Cisco's Unified communications/collaboration consulting practice in Emerging Markets,

Pam Wallwin - Lead Staffing Manager at AT&T,

Lisa Harvey - Senior Recruiter at Avesta Computer Services,

Mark Percival - Partner Account Director at aap3,

Chris Lapthorne - Business Development at Nortel Telepresence,

Jessy Chandran - Manager- Operations at Viva Communications,

Francois Rodrigue - Multimedia Manager at Nortel,

Daniel Wattenhofer - Owner of Cyberfish GmbH,

Manuel Gomes - VNOC Engineer at EasyNet,

Steven Nault - AV Systems Engineer at Polycom,

Sam Sealana - Video Engineer at Raytheon,

Gareth Gray - Audio Visual Product & Integration Sales Specialist at Computacenter

and John Geaney - Business Devt Manager at Hewlett-Packard (Switzerland),

All joined Telepresence Industry Professionals last week!� Welcome to TIP!

Telepresence Industry Professionals (TIP) is our industry association on popular business networking site: Linked In.� We are about to hit 650 members! In the TIP forum you can find stimulating industry discussions, the ability to network with telepresence industry professionals, and an active job board.� AT&T recently posted an announcement on the TIP board looking to fill 26 telepresence positions!

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