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Correction: Polycom's Immersive Studio - The World's Newest $425,999+ Telepresence Environment

February 13, 2014 | Howard Lichtman

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Immersive Telepresence Environments - The visual collaboration industry's equivalent of the Ferrari (or perhaps a Gulfstream Jet might be a more apt comparison).� Sleek, sexy, and technologically advanced, they are the closest that the corporate world comes to having their own holodeck.� Videoconferencing solution provider Polycom recently announced their newest telepresence environment, the Immersive Studio.�

Correction: The good folks at Polycom sent me more comprehensive pricing info and it seems that the base cost of the 9 seat Immersive Studio is $425,999 which they point out is only $47,333 per seat vs. immersive telepresence market leader Cisco's $54,333.� They also shared an interesting cost comparison between the 21 Seat Immersive Studio vs. their Polycom RPX solution.� The company was able to drop the cost-per-seat from $36,999 to $28,571.� I should also add that while the footprint of the systems is still essentially the same and will require the moving of people, things, and knocking down of walls... Once you get the space the improved design of the Immersive Studio will definitely require less make-ready further reducing TCO. SMBs, you may now flood into the market! ;-)

The Basics Corrected:� The Immersive Studio comes in two- sizes: 9 participants or a larger model that adds a second row to seat an additional 12 participants for a total of 21 seats.� The MSRP on the 9 seat version is $524,999 $425,999 with options for: Rear Wall: $47,999 , Lighting: $23,999 and Acoustical Cloud: $26,429 while the 21-seater is $599,999 $475,999 with options for: Rear Wall: $56,999 Lighting: $30,999 and Acoustical Cloud:$35,999

While that cost seems high (and it is, as discussed below) the benefits for organizations that are trying to manage multi-national operations and connect effectively to partners, vendors, and customers are equally high.� Humans have innate expectations for inter-personal communications.� The brain expects its conferees to be lifesize and their voices to come from their general direction and a dozen other human factors... Address these and your knowledge workers will adopt and use video willingly... This accelerates the rate at which information is created, shared, understood, evaluated, and acted upon within an organization. �Also, as more and more organizations connect with their aforementioned partners, vendors, and customers, executives are looking for solutions that improve the way they look and sound... especially when dealing with clients, analysts, the media, board members, etc.� Companies are willing to pay a premium to showcase themselves to the outside world as more and more interactions move to video.�

So what is new and cool in the video industry's latest telepresence environment?

What's Hot!

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The New Camera - Polycom spent over two years developing a completely new camera from scratch specifically for this environment.� The camera captures each pie-shaped slice of the room and stiches them together to create a seamless scene vs. the overlap that can leave remote participants looking like Stretch Armstrong.

Polycom's specially designed camera stitches the scene to eliminate "Stretch Armstrong" and "Dinosaur Arms"

Content Has the Option to be King - There is a significant percentage of the population who can be classified as "visual learners" so being able to display content effectively in virtual meetings and local meetings is key.� Content (and remote people... who are a form of "content" ) can me moved around to any of the displays in the room using the touch sensitive user interface.

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Polycom's New User Interface Easily Allows for Content to be Moved Around (Click to enlarge)

Spatial Audio - Great audio is easily one of the most important factors in a quality virtual meeting.� The term "spatial audio" refers to techniques that make the audio from remote participants appear to come from the direction of their image on the screen.� The audio in the Immersive Studio uses an array of three ceiling microphones specially calibrated to the participants and shape of the room and a Polycom SoundStructure audio improvement device per row of participants for pick-up.� On the other side of the world the sound is channeled to five real speakers that use beam forming to create a "virtual speaker" located in front of each participant so the sound appears to come from the person speaking.

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Stand Up Capture - Nothing breaks an immersive experience faster than headless participants standing, entering, or leaving the scene.� Also a certain percentage of executives are what I would term: "Stand Up Presenters" and would prefer to speak standing.� Placing the camera in front of the screen allows for the capture of the entire scene and allows "stand-up presenters" to keep their heads.

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The Immersive Studio's Camera Placement Eliminates Head-less Torsos Interrupting Immersion

What's Not!

The Size - Like the majority of "split-table" telepresence environments this baby is big! The nine seat version has a minimum footprint of 5.98M / 18.36 feet x 8.138M / 26.69 feet =� 48.66 Square Meters or 523 sq feet.� The 21 seat version has a minimum footprint of 7.287M / 23.90 feet x 8.91M / 29.23 feet =� 64.92M or 699 sq.ft.� This adds to the cost significantly as most firms don't have 500-700 sq. ft. of vacant space close to key executives.� This means room remediation in the majority of cases requiring moving people/things around and, most-likely, knocking down walls.� One of the hidden costs of environmental telepresence. �It seems like the industry needs a better way of addressing the human factors of participants than the split table approach and a way of improving the human factors in existing spaces.�

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The Visible Camera and its Placement - Telepresence conferencing is an art and science of trade-offs.� Put the camera in front of the screen and gain stand up capture and good eye-line for your primary participants but now the (typically) most important person in the meeting has a camera in front of their chest.� Ideally you want to conceal or at least minimize the camera because it comes with attendant psychological baggage:� People tend to act differently when they are obviously on camera.� The phenomenon is known as "the documentarian's curse" and in business meetings it leads to more formality, more attention paid internally to how the participant might look vs the content of the discussion, and participants tend to be more guarded and reserved as a visible camera raises the awareness that the meeting is potentially being recorded.�

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Telepresence Trade-Offs - Visible Camera in the Chest of the (Typically) Most Important Person

The Cost - $500,000+ is a lot of money! Add another $15-$100K+ for room remediation, annual maintenance, and 6 MBps of QoS bandwidth and the costs start adding up.� Even for multi-billion dollar global companies who are the target market.�� It is rumored that Polycom sells around 300 or so immersive environments a year and that there are between 5,000-10,000 multi-camera, multi-codec telepresence environments on the planet.� According to the industry "market-sizers" there are around 1,500,000 traditional videoconferencing group systems with another 60,000+ getting added every quarter.�

If only Avaya, Cisco, ClearOne, LifeSize, Magor, Polycom, Teliris, and Vidyo would get behind technologies that would improve the human factors of these systems... cost-effectively... in regular-sized conference rooms... in a format that is great for local meetings as well as virtual... with no impact on the existing videoconferencing gear, infrastructure or bandwidth... then we could kick-off a telepresence revolution for all!

About the Author

Howard_headshot.jpgHoward Lichtman is the Founder and President of the Human Productivity Lab, a consulting firm that helps organizations design visual collaboration strategies, build Video Network Operation Centers (VNOCs), and helps with RFP creation, bid management, and oversight. He is the publisher of Telepresence Options, the leading publication covering visual collaboration where he and his team share the lessons learned from real world deployments and cover the industry's latest advancements.







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