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Telepresence and Visual Collaboration @ InfoComm 2012 - Best of Show Awards

June 25, 2012 | Howard Lichtman
Telepresence and Visual Collaboration @ InfoComm 2012
The Telepresence Options "Best of Show" Awards

By Howard S. Lichtman, Publisher - Telepresence Options
and David S. Maldow, Associate Editor
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InfoComm is our favorite industry event and one of the few trade shows where attendees can see so many telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration solutions side-by-side.  It is also the industry event where the most new products and services are launched and new industry trends are first observed and detected.  This year's event drew over 34,000 attendees from 90+ countries and Telepresence Options Publisher Howard Lichtman and Associate Editor David Maldow spent three days crisscrossing the Las Vegas Convention Center on-foot and via Segway reviewing the latest and greatest.  Here are the two major trends we detected and the solutions we award as our Best in Show! 

InfoComm 2012 Trends

Trend #1: HD USB Cameras & Soft Clients Begin to Challenge Appliances

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In the (recent) past videoconferencing end-points were dedicated appliances that required high-end chipsets to compress high definition video for the trip across the wire.  Now with quad-core and multi-threaded chip architectures most modern PCs are more than capable of processing HD video and most videoconferencing vendors have HD capable standards-based soft-clients that supplement their dedicated videoconferencing end-points and appliances.  Moving the videoconferencing codec to a PC has advantages: The ability to run multiple soft codecs depending on whom you are talking to or what data collaboration capabilities you require, the ability to use "out-of-band" data collaboration tools simultaneously, and, most importantly, cost: Soft clients range from free (0) to $150 and high-quality, HD videoconferencing cloud services range from $6 to $70 per user, per month.  Quite a difference from the $3,000-30,000+ price tag of dedicated videoconferencing appliances and end-points.

 The missing piece of the puzzle has been a quality camera capable of compressing high definition video over USB 2.0's limited 480MBps throughput. This InfoComm we saw the first crop of high-quality and (relatively) low-cost HD cameras appear capable of HD video over USB 2.0 with both Logitech and Vaddio fielding solutions (See below).  We also saw a number of vendors that began deploying small group videoconferencing solutions with low-cost, high-quality "Pro-sumer" USB cameras: notably Teliris who was demonstrating their new $4,000 StartPoint solution that was shipping with a Logitech B910 720P HD camera that retails for $75 and ClearOne's Collaborate small group solution for Microsoft Lync users.

This is a trend that we see continuing with USB 3.0 coming on-line with a data throughput of 4.8GBps.  I spoke to the product manager at Vaddio and Eric Kintz, the GM of Logitech for Business and both tell me that the drivers for HD video over USB 3.0 aren't fully baked... yet. We see this trend impacting the market for small group systems first and, hopefully, expanding the penetration of video into more conference rooms.  On the consulting side of our business we are designing a visual collaboration network for a 2,000+ employee telecommunications firm and are definitely going to be testing soft clients and USB cameras to see if we can achieve the same quality, ease-of-use, and reliability as dedicated appliances while getting the cost-per-room down. Judging from the lines at the Logitech and Vaddio booths we suspect we aren't the only visual collaboration architects kicking the tires of USB cameras and HD soft clients.

Trend#2: Interactive Whiteboards and Multi-Touch Displays

We visited every booth we could find researching interactive whiteboards

There was a veritable explosion in interactive whiteboards, touch-screens, and multi-touch displays at this year's InfoComm. Next year we may show up with buckets and squeegees to make some money on the side cleaning touch screens. It seemed like every other booth had some sort of interactive system (whether it was a whiteboard, touch-screen, or even tabletop display). These interactive boards/touch screens aren't just for the classroom anymore. The collaboration industry appears to have realized that today's knowledge workers (software developers, engineers, trainers, presenters, etc.) are fond of the stand-up meeting dynamic and rely heavily on old fashioned whiteboards. We Agree. Our philosophy as architects on creating effective visual collaboration environments is to replicate "the usual and customary tools in their usual and customary format". Why? Because a substantial percentage of the population are "visual learners" and because some concepts can only be effectively communicated pictorially using what we call "hand generated graphics". Interactive whiteboards allow graphics to be captured, images to be annotated, move pictorial depictions immediately into an all digital work-flow, and allow graphics to be worked on simultaneously globally and/or saved to be worked on again anywhere in the world. Large format multi-touch displays provide enhanced ways of manipulating data, demonstrate the techniques to observers while the expert drives, and often provide many of the same tools as interactive whiteboards.

Here are our "Best of Show" winners from InfoComm:

SMART Technologies - The SMART booth at InfoComm was extremely popular, and with good reason. As one of the pioneers of the industry, their solutions have had more actual use (and testing... and R&D) in the field than most of their competitors. Perhaps more significantly, SMART offers its Bridgit conference software, which connects SMARTboards together for interactive whiteboarding and doubles as a cost-effective web conferencing tool allows for the sharing of any application being used on a board. As one person draws on her board in New York or shows a powerpoint or annotates a spreadsheet, her partner can see the changes live on her board in Los Angeles, and vice versa. This turns the interactive whiteboard from a collaboration solution, to a fully capable REMOTE collaboration solution. This collaborative capability, the richness of the other SMART software tools (now wrapped up as Freestorm), and the company's deepening intergration with more and more applications like legal presentation, Agile-Scrum-Kanban boards, and Autodesk is what separates SMART from the rest of the pack.

Sharp Aquos Board - A relatively new entrant with deep pockets and the commitment to the space to challenge SMART.  The Aquos board comes in 60", 70", and 80" models and has superb brightness and resolution, good responsiveness, and a decent software tool kit.  It still lacks the interactive collaborative qualities of SMART but we hear some are on the way.  We also hear that users were cobbling together solutions that combined the brightness / tactile responsiveness of the Sharp board with SMART's software until SMART disabled the capability in the latest release. We hear older versions still work. The solution is already starting to get integrated into some "killer apps" like AVI-SPL's MeetingExperience (See below). We have an evaluation board headed our way so we can kick the tires ourselves.

Perceptive Pixel
- In 2006 a short video (set to kewl beats) on the multi-touch work of graduate student Jeff Han went viral on the internet. An invitation to present at TED shortly followed and after that the investment from heavyweights like Intel, 3M, and the CIA's In-Q-Tel rolled in. The company has raised over $6MM to-date.  The solutions remain significantly more expensive for wide-scale deployments in corporate conference rooms but we are assuming they are working to get the costs out. 

The company specializes in Projected Capacitive Touchscreens (PCAP) and Geoff Walker recently summed up the company's advantages in Information Display Week:

"Perceptive Pixel has figured out how to scale p-cap to unlimited sizes with no visible electrodes (unlike current large-format p-cap implementations that use visible 10-micron-wire electrodes). Jeff said that even 200 inches is no problem; if there is a display that large, Perceptive Pixel can make a p-cap touchscreen for it. The largest the company has actually demonstrated so far is 82 inches (at CES 2012) because that was the largest display it could easily buy. (This product also just won a 2012 Silver Display Industry Award from SID for Display Application of the Year.) The key elements of Perceptive Pixel's solution are (a) a custom, extremely high-performance p-cap controller re-imagined from the ground up, and (b) a method of applying invisible non-ITO p-cap electrodes on glass. Jeff showed a variety of demo videos of commercial touch applications on screen sizes ranging from a 27-inch reclining desktop monitor to a 20-foot wall of tiled touch-displays. The applications included broadcast-screen manipulation, 3D CAD, manipulation of multi-dimensional oil-well-exploration data sets, and many, many more. The impression this barrage of sophisticated touch applications makes is far beyond anything else I've ever seen from any other company in the touch industry. It's so intense that it's very difficult to describe."

The Telepresence Options 
              Infocomm 2012"Best of Show" Awards

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This is our 5th year to do a comprehensive review of the latest and greatest at InfoComm and our 3rd year to give official awards.   If you disagree with any of our picks or feel like we have forgotten anyone then we have opened up a discussion thread @Telepresence Industry Professionals, our industry association on Linked In which we like to call the "Telepresence and Visual Collaboration Cool Kids Club".  We are now over 3,250+ members globally. 

Cisco TX9200

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Howard S. Lichtman (HSL) - We first covered Cisco's updated environment for their flagship TelePresence offering when David checked it out at Enterprise Connect 2012, but this was my first opportunity to see the new system in action.  While I have always thought that the overall human factors of the environment were always "OK" and a text book example of the trade-offs that telepresence architects make between quality-of-experience and affordability/replicability/space etc., the system keeps on getting incrementally better and better.  The latest version now has content that can be delivered to the main monitors, a touch-pad that allows crude annotations, a reduced camera array, and better table design to name but a few.  On the back-end the system continues to improve with better WebEx integration, the free Jabber client, and better analytics through pulse. 

Best in Show: Cameras
Tie: Logitech and Vaddio USB Cameras

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David S. Maldow (DSM) & HSL - We recently covered the new USB video cameras offered by Logitech and Vaddio in a Telepresence Options feature article. At InfoComm we were able to check out these cameras first hand and we were not disappointed. 

Vaddio had several specialized rooms designed to show the flexibility and ease of integration of their new cameras with various UC and VC platforms. For example, Vaddio had a heavily trafficked MS Lync room, featuring a Lync environment supported by Vaddio cameras. Vaddio also had a Vidyo room, a Skype room, and a Cisco Jabber room. The point was clear, Vaddio wants to be the camera of choice for any "build it yourself" communications environment. 

The camera alone is $4500 but a deployment is also going to require a PC  to run the soft client and a mixer, speakers, and microphone pods.  Conveniently Vaddio also makes a number of ingenious products that fill in the blanks.  Their Easy USB Mixer/Amp is ~$1000 and connects to a PC as a single microphone and speaker channel.  The mixer can support up to two microphone pods and Vaddio makes tabletop, wireless lapel, and ceiling mounted options.

HSL - The Logitech BCC 950 Conference Cam is somewhat revolutionary.  It is a 1080p, 30fps USB 2.0 High Definition PTZ camera for small groups that doubles as a full duplex speakerphone for small group conferencing.  The cost is $249.00 which makes it the only sub-$1000 PTZ camera that I know of on the market. The zoom leaves much to be desired but not bad for V1.  I heard that the company completely sold out their first production run essentially immediately.

Tie:  AVI-SPL MeetingExperience and Barco & Vidyo 4K Display

AVI-SPL MeetingExperience
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AVI-SPL Meeting Experience

HSL - AVI-SPL MeetingExperience was a product I got a sneak peak at in Tampa at an analyst event in April but have been sworn to silence about until its public debut at InfoComm.  The system was designed for the hotel equipment rental business where companies that rent conference rooms also rent AV equipment for presentations or meetings as well.  The system is designed to be an "All-in-One" solution that stays in a hotel or convention center conference room until someone requires some of its functionality and then contracts with the hotel (credit card swipe?) to turn on videoconferencing, whiteboarding, or just display a PowerPoint on the super-bright 70 inch screen.  I gave a keynote speech to the CEOs of the InfoComm - CompTIA Strategy Summit in July of 2010 essentially describing my vision for the "conference room of the future" and the MeetingExperience is the closest anyone has come to wrapping up those capabilities into a single solution.  The system combines a 70" Sharp Aquos touch-sensitive display / interactive whiteboard, a PC running basic productivity apps including MS Office Suite, web-browsers, etc. and for visual collaboration a Cisco TelePresence 720P Precision HD Camera and Fuze Meeting's Cloud-based hosted telepresence solution which provides interoperability with other standard's based videoconferencing solutions and traditional webconferencing capabilities. The cost to both buy or rent is still under wraps but I predict you are going to start seeing these babies pop up in hotel conference rooms sooner rather than later.

 Vidyo & Barco 4K Ultra High Resolution Display
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Vidyo & Barco 4K Ultra High Resolution Display

DSM - While at this stage it may be more of a technology demo than a ready-for-market product, the Vidyo / Barco "4K Immersive Video Collaboration" display wall was nonetheless impressive. Highlighting the quality of the Barco display with the flexibility and power of Vidyo's SVC technology, the solution displays up to 16 video streams at 8 megapixels. The 140" display wall (or "virtual canvas") offers numerous options for combining high definition video and content. The combination of "best in breed" display and VC protocol technology results reminded many InfoComm attendees how far we have come from the days of CIF resolution on a tiny screen. At Telepresence Options, we have long been saying that VC technology isn't just for the boardroom anymore and can be easily adapted for other uses such as security, command control centers, etc. This type of tech demo proves the point. 

Vidtel Gateway

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HSL - While the industry is more familiar with better-funded cloud infrastructure provider Blue Jeans Networks, lesser known and less- capitalized Vidtel is the proverbial mouse that roars.  The company keeps on keeping on and innovating in the business of providing cloud services that connect disparate videoconferencing end-points for usage-based and flat-rate pricing without having to purchase videoconferencing infrastructure.  The company scored a coup with their announcement of the Vidtel Gateway which upgrades the MCUs owned by enterprises and service providers to allow connections to Skype and GoogleTalk.  Several service providers adopted immediately including: IOCOM, NobelBiz, and Solutionz.  The company also announced a deal with ZTE to bundle it's MeetMe videoconferencing service with ZTE's videoconferencing end-points

Best in Show - Control System
AMX Modero X Series

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HSL - While we are giving the award to the entire line of Modero X control and information panels the solution that caught my attention was the 19.4 and 20.3 inch panoramic touch panels.  The panel was both stunningly beautiful and packed with capabilities: It can control everything in the room from videoconferencing to lighting to multiple displays, it has Bluetooth to support VoIP and can be paired with the cordless headset below to double as the phone in the room, it has a built-in HD camera to connect users to a help desk for face-to-face video support, and it supports near-field communications so users with registered mobile devices can put their phone next to system and get their preferred or authorized custom menu delivered to the display.  The price is steep... $9000 for the 19" model and $12,000 for the 20"

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Tie - WolfVison VZ-C3D Visualizer and Cisco Synch

Cisco Synch
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Cisco Sync

Cisco Synch is a clever little black box that intuitively integrates interactive whiteboards with Cisco TelePresence.  One of the problems with using interactive whiteboards with a video call is the board must be calibrated. Often the board needs to do double duty as a display as well and when you minimize the board to add video the minimized board needs to be recalibrated.  Cisco Synch eliminated this and allows format of the board to change throughout the meeting while keeping the board calibrated for both whiteboarding and as a touch screen peripheral.  Clever and handy for whiteboard bigots like myself.

WolfVision VZ-C3D Ceiling Mounted 3D Visualizer
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The WolfVision VZ-C3D Ceiling Mounted 3D Visualizer 

HSL -WolfVision has scored a big win with their VZ-C3D Ceiling Mounted 3D Visualizer.  First, I have been a ceiling-mounted visualizer bigot ever since the first time I played with the WolfVision visualizer that DreamWorks and HP integrated so gracefully into the HP Halo environment.  The ability to easily and intuitively share documents and physical objects without cluttering the table or having to get up to use a document camera in another part of the room has had me hooked on WolfVision ever since.  The company has upped the ante with a 3D version that delivers a 1080p, 30fps output with a 12X zoom.  The system can display in either 2D or 3D and when in 3D mode the output can be delivered to all 3D capable displays (both auto-stereoscopic displays or 3D displays requiring glasses).The cost is a cool $30K and the system will be available in December.

Best in Show - Booth Display
Vaddio Camera Shoot-Out 

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HSL - Anyone who has ever wanted to compare camera quality side-by-side could have done so at the Vaddio booth.  I was fascinated by the opportunity and thought it said a lot to have the cojones to put together a side-by-side comparison with your competition.

Best in Show: User Interface and Call Flow

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DSM - StarLeaf's latest announcements play upon their biggest strengths, adding flexibility and mobility without compromising their leading user interface. In addition to its UI, StarLeaf is known for having an inherently natural caller workflow, due to its phone based interface.  Allowing users to initiate video calls using the same phone, UI, directory, etc, that they use to initiate standard phone calls is a sure way to encourage usage. 

The original offering (as described in our previous coverage of StarLeaf) featured an endpoint consisting of a smart desktop phone paired with a multipurpose monitor. StarLeaf also is now able to pair their phone with an iPad. The proliferation of iPads has forced everyone and everything to tie itself to the iPad in one way or another, but this particular integration appeared to work very well and result in a very cool looking video-phone combo. StarLeaf's new PT Mini allows users to pair the StarLeaf phone with standard desktop monitors. This offering makes sense, as many desktops already have a monitor in place. StarLeaf's third new offering is the Breeze mobile client. Breeze stays true to the original StarLeaf UI while working seamlessly on the iPad. The real key is that the interface is consistent across all StarLeaf implementations, from Breeze, to desktop, to room systems.

Best in Show: Robotic Telepresence

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DSM - Jeremy Parsons (CEO of Mantaro, above left) was on hand to demo the latest MantaroBot model. The robot has come a long way since we first covered it back in 2011. Leveraging the power of the iPad, the bot has an extremely sleek and friendly design. Many of today's robot designs become creepy as they attempt to appear human, others are just scary or intimidating in other ways. On the other hand, I could easily envision the MantaroBot cruising through a crowded museum without upsetting or bothering the patrons. I tried to get the inside scoop on the next round of upgrades, and while nothing is ready to be shared, I definitely got a sense that there are some cool improvements on the horizon, so stay tuned.

Best in Show - Publications
Telepresence Options Magazine - Summer 2012 Edition

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There we go again... Giving ourselves another award (but in our own defense the latest issue of Telepresence Options Magazine really did turn out spectacularly well).  Constant and Never Ending Improvement! We have a new look, a new digital version that is iPad friendly, and twice as many subscribers as last year.  Our latest edition focuses on videoconferencing infrastructure, managed services, cloud computing, internetworking, and videoconferencing security.  As usual it is more than a traditional magazine... It is a reference work that you are going to want to tuck away and refer back to again and again. 

The Summer 2012 Issue Includes:

  • Videoconferencing Infrastructure: A Primer - The basics of the "Big Iron" that make telepresence and videoconferencing possible
  • The Cloud, Videoconferencing, and You - Everybody's talking about the cloud. What does it mean for videoconferencing?
  • The Great Debate: The Case for Building Your Own VNOC vs. The Case for Managed Services - A Fortune 500 videoconferencing manager with a VNOC and 500+ rooms explains why they do it all themselves
  • Internetworking Telepresence and Videoconferencing - Terrestrial, satellite, Internet, and mobile networks for video
  • Videoconferencing Security - Present and future threats
  • The Telepresence and Videoconferencing Catalog

Get instant access to the digital version by subscribing here:

Subscribe by Wednesday, June 27th and get a free hardcopy in the mail as well!

Best in Show - Virtual Book
The MonkeyBook

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Being a bibliophile I was simply fascinated by this virtual book application.  The MonkeyBook is used to display rare books in libraries where patrons can flip through the pages without damaging the original.  Check out this video to explain more.

Best of Show: iPad Accessory
Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover

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DSM - What is an iPad accessory doing in a videoconferencing best of list? During InfoComm, this iPad was my primary mobile VC device, supporting no less than 8 VC apps. The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover turned my mobile VC device into a fully functional laptop. While the iPad's on-screen keyboard is surprisingly usable, it will always be a compromise from a fully tactile keyboard. Logitech applies their keyboard expertise to solve this problem, while giving the iPad a little more protection than the standard floppy cover.

The keyboard cover leverages the embedded magnets in the iPad, so that it snaps into place in both cover mode (with instant on/off capability) or keyboard mode. When closed it forms a solid case, looking a lot like a very sleek closed laptop and becoming safe to stow in a backback. Note: it does not protect the back of the iPad, which may concern some scratch-conscious users.

In keyboard mode (shown above),  I found the angle of the iPad to be ideal for videoconferencing, superior to the angle provided by the standard floppy covers. The keyboard itself is an approximately 90% scale version of the full sized Logitech keyboard at my desktop PC, with a few specialized features for the iPad, such as a home button and cut/copy/paste function keys. Bluetooth connectivity was a snap, and the battery has an estimated 6 month charge. With the Logitech keyboard cover and the Apple iWorks suite, my iPad is a double threat; a mobile VC endpoint and a fully functional (for my needs) laptop. 

Best In Show: Personal Human Transporter
The Segway

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HSL- I broke my foot a couple of years ago in a cycling accident and while the bone healed, the Achilles tendon never really did.  I had to give up running and while I can still walk on it, the pain involved after tradeshows was starting to get to me so I decided to rent a Segway for the first time to cover the show.  What an amazing device!  The learning curve was 2 minutes and after 10 I felt like the Segway was a natural extension of my own body.  The Segway allowed me to cover twice as much of the show as usual including the convenience of making trips back to certain booths that I never would have made if I didn't have it.  Plus, frankly, it was a blast!  I had so much fun that Friday afternoon after the show I rented one for David Maldow and we both Segwayed the entire strip including in and out of over half a dozen casinos. I'm hooked!

Best in Show - View of Las Vegas
The View of the Strip from the KBZ Communications 25th Anniversary Party @ The Foundation Room

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Cisco Master Reseller KBZ Communications was celebrating its 25th anniversary and threw itself one helluva party at The Foundation Room at the top of the Mandalay Bay.  We managed to wrangle an invite and had the opportunity to hear founder Ken Zorzi relate humorous anecdotes of how the company first got started representing a then little known videoconferencing reseller from Norway called TANDBERG.   

Best Impersonation of Austin Powers, Mini-Me, and Fembots

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Worst-in-Show: Innuendo T-Shirts

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DSM & HSL - Call us prudes but we think this is a bit of a misfire. The "Use me. I'm Easy" ladies in particular were the cause of many eye-rolls. We like fun and playful marketing, but judging by the reactions we overheard, we think this may have been pushing it. There is a most unfortunate coarsening of the culture in modern life and we see no need to accelerate the dynamic.

Previous InfoComm "Best in Show" Winners and Coverage: 

About the Judges

Howard Lichtman is the President of the Human Productivity Lab, a telepresence consultancy and research firm that helps organizations design telepresence and visual collaboration strategies and deploy and future-proof investments.  He is also the publisher of Telepresence Options, the #1 website on the Internet covering telepresence and visual collaboration technologies and the Editor of the monthly Telepresence Options Telegraph and the bi-annual Telepresence Options Magazine, the world's most widely read publication covering telepresence technologies.

Mr. Lichtman is also the author and/or co-author of The Telepresence Options 2011 Yearbook, The Inter-Company Telepresence and Videoconferencing Handbook (2009), The Telepresence and Videoconferencing Exchange Review (2010), Telepresence, Effective Visual Collaboration and the Future of Global Business at the Speed of Light (2006), and Emerging Technologies for Teleconferencing and Telepresence (2005).  He is currently working on Telepresence Options 2012.

Mr. Lichtman is a frequent commentator on telepresence, videoconferencing, and effective visual collaboration and his writings on and analysis of the industry have been featured by US News and World Report, Telephony Magazine, CXO Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Reuters, Pro AV Magazine, Killer App Magazine, ABA Banking Journal, Bank Systems and Technology Magazine and CFO magazine among others.

David Maldow is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate editor at Telepresence Options. David has extensive expertise in testing, evaluating, and explaining telepresence and other visual collaboration technologies. David is focused on providing third-party independent testing of telepresence and visual collaboration endpoints and infrastructure and helps end users better secure their telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter and Google+.

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