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SightDeck: A Stealth Broadcast Studio In Your Meeting Room
Here at Telepresence Options we are constantly reviewing solutions which are supposedly revolutionary, or one of a kind. This is one of the very few times when the reality far outmatches the hype. SightDeck integrates many of the disparate technologies we cover here, resulting in the ability to easily turn a standard conference room into a full featured presentation and collaboration enabled virtual studio. The solution produces live or recorded presentations at broadcast quality, while providing unique cues and controls to the presenter, without requiring any post-production editing.
We learned of the SightDeck solution secondhand. As our friends at Masergy were providing network services to iMatte, they caught wind of SightDeck and knew we would love it. I immediately reached out to Paul Vlahos, CEO of iMatte, who was kind enough to provide me with a live demo and answer all my questions. It was actually two demos at once, as I viewed Paul via a live SightDeck stream (above left) and via a standard Skype call (above right) which allowed me to understand how things worked behind the scenes.
SightDeck is primarily a presentation solution, as opposed to a pure collaboration solution. However, it incorporates many of the collaborative technologies we like to cover at Telepresence Options so uniquely and effectively, that we had to share it. The solution is so revolutionary that it is a bit difficult to describe what is actually going on in the screenshots above. I will try to break it down into its essential elements in the following article, but the result is a solution that turns any standard meeting room into an instant, full featured studio. Not only is it capable of producing many of the special effects you see on the TV News, it actually does it in a way that is superior to traditional "green screen" technology and actively enables amateur presenters to give a performance worthy of a seasoned professional.
Green Screen on Steroids
Many of us are at least somewhat familiar with green screen technology, which allows your local weatherman to appear in front of a map. While you see him on your home TV pointing at a big storm, in the studio he is just pointing at big green wall.
SightDeck's technology includes what could be described as the green screen of the future, on steroids, with some extra bells and whistles. SightDeck works on a standard meeting room presentation screen or wall, no green paint required. Far more important is the fact that the SightDeck projector displays the images on the wall so the presenter can actually see what he is pointing at. In the green screen images above, the presenter is pointing at an empty green wall and relying on his memory, skill, and experience to fake it.
With SightDeck, the presenter doesn't have to fake it and pretend to point at imaginary images. Instead of requiring these kinds of special skills, SightDeck displays the actual images on the wall or screen in real time. It is often stressful enough to present in front of an audience, an amateur presenter can't handle the additional stress of trying to remember which area of a green screen to point to during his talk. It is a lot easier, and more natural, to have the actual images up there while presenting.
Presenter-Only Visual Cues
SightDeck not only displays the actual images on the wall in real time, but also provides cues which only the presenter can see, to ensure he is pointing at the right area, at the right time. Amazingly, while the presenter sees an interactive control surface, the audience will only see a clean, polished, final presentation. These stealth presentation cues could be literally anything; arrows showing the presenter where to look or point, text reminders, etc. By presenting different visuals to the presenter and the streaming audience, SightDeck can offer endless tricks and tools to invisibly support a presenter.
Do not dismiss this as simply a large projector touch surface. This isn't a merely a presentation focused SMARTboard. The ability for the presenter to see one thing, while the audience sees another allows for a multitude of capabilities that are simply not possible by recording a presentation in front of a traditional touch surface.
We all know that when they filmed Minority Report, Tom Cruise just waved his arms around and the geeks in CGI added in everything afterwards. When I first watched a SightDeck demo, I assumed I was watching something similar. I was amazed to learn that it wasn't smoke and mirrors, but the presenter can actually control SightDeck imagery, by using the wall as a touchscreen during the live presentation. In the above right picture, you can see Paul operating a user interface allowing him to change elements of the embedded graphics. In the above left picture, the live streamed view of Paul does not show the user interface, it just appears as if Paul is magically moving a 3D motorcycle around, changing its colors, etc. etc. The final result is a streamed or recorded presentation that is almost impossible to believe does not contain any post-production editing or effects.
As if all the above wasn't enough, the collaborative presentation abilities of SightDeck are truly amazing. Multiple parties, at up to four remote locations, can all see each other and easily communicate, while sharing and working together with the projected graphics and videos. In the image above, each presenter was in a different physical location equipped with a SightDeck projector, working together collaboratively on the image in real time. For example, as the presenter on the left draws the red line around that VGA port, the other presenter will see the red line appear. Even more importantly, each presenter sees the other presenter on his wall. What makes this so powerful is that each presenter can speak naturally to the life sized image of the other one, videoconferencing style, and the end result is a presentation where both parties appear to be in the same physical location, interacting naturally with each other. The videos embedded above show this remarkable meeting / presentation dynamic in play.
As we have learned from our consulting practice at the Human Productivity Lab, small working teams are quickly learning the benefit of collaborative environments including both videoconferencing and graphic manipulation. The many pairings of SMARTboard type displays with videoconferencing technology displayed at InfoComm 2012 is a testament to the power of this type of combined solution. SightDeck takes this to the next level, by not only pairing video with collaboration, but by enabling the participants to create a studio quality production of the session which can be recorded or broadcast live.
How Does It Work
The magic is in the projector/camera combination. It continuously detects where the presenter is located and sends light/images to the wall, without hitting the presenter. Somehow, it blocks the light which should be hitting the presenter, and adjusts this in real time. This effect is what enables the presenters to appear to move in front of the image, without it appearing on their clothes and bodies (which is what happens if you wear green when using green screen tech, as shown above).
This super intelligent projector technology provides additional benefits, such as the ability to remedy low light situations. As described above, SightDeck can send light everywhere BUT on the participant. In addition, it can be used to send light specifically, and exactly, ON the presenter. Rather than purchase expensive broadcast lighting, simply direct the SightDeck to properly light the presenter, while displaying the desired graphics, videos, and presenter controls behind him. Theoretically, this technology could be used to project graphics on the presenter himself for advanced theatrics, such as appearing to be the Human Torch from the comic books.
Who Are These Guys?
It is hard to believe that a solution this well thought out comes from a startup out of the blue. In fact, iMatte is the progeny of Ultimatte Corp, founded by Petro and Paul Vlahos in 1976. Ultimatte has won numerous awards (including an Emmy and two Oscars) for technologies that Paul has now further enhanced, developed, and incorporated into SightDeck.
This was simply a mindblowing demo of a knockout technology. SightDeck provides a professional green screen production without most of the associated hassles, costs, and limitations. No crew, post-production staff, special screens, lighting, or complex installation is required. A common meeting room can be used instead of an expensive studio, which not only saves costs, but reduces stress on the typical business presenter. Studios can be intimidating, we live in meeting rooms. Presenters in remote locations can see life sized images of each other and communicate in real time, while interacting collaboratively with the graphics presented on the screen behind them. The final live (or recorded) streaming presentation is as impressive as an expensive CGI production, with presenters deftly manipulating 3D imagery and effects limited only by your imagination. With existing clients using SightDeck for educational and sales presentations, the product could potentially be adopted in a number of fields, although it will be limited to clients with a decent budget (ballpark price is ~$100k). Those who can afford it should be prepared for a video production technology treat.
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About the Author
David Maldow, Esq. 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 / rich media solutions. David is focused on providing third-party independent analysis and opinion of these technologies and helping end users better secure their telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter and Google+.
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