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HP Halo: It's divine videoconferencing

May 26, 2010 | Chris Payatagool
haloHP_multipoint.jpgBy Edward J. Correia via CRN

Often the experience with point-to-point teleconferencing is a blurry picture, choppy, delayed sound and frequent drop-outs. Not so with the Halo Telepresence Service, the enterprise teleconferencing solution from Hewlett-Packard. With its life-size high-definition images, near-zero latency and rock-solid connectivity, it truly is the next best thing to being there, and makes an effective alternative to air travel.

"Nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting, but for everything else this does the job," said Darren Podrabsky, worldwide marketing manager for Halo, during a one-on-one teleconference with the CRN Test Centre in mid-April.

With a six-figure list price to start, Halo wasn't a solution we could easily test-drive in the lab-- so we visited HP for an evaluation of a unit that was up and running.

Testers traveled to HP's office in midtown Manhattan to review the system. Imagine walking into a dedicated room that's empty except for a semi-circular table with six chairs around its outer edge. The chairs face three gigantic LCD displays, from above each of which a large camera lens stares at you. Centred atop all that is another large display, with icons navigable using the mouse on the table before you.

A nav bar at the top of the screen shows cities that give way to companies, which lead to buildings, and then to rooms. Clicking on a room (assuming its door is open) will send an invitation to the "concierge" on the far end. If accepted, the three large monitors light up to reveal a mirror image of the room you're in, populated with life-size images of the people you're about to collaborate with.

The realism was a bit eerie at first, like spying through windows into another room. "This is a room replacement," said Podrabsky. "It's a private studio finely tuned for a consistent, highly immersive experience that's just like a private meeting." Making this possible on the customer side is an array of between 50 and 60 distinct devices--each with its own IP address--including multiple servers, a router, switches, A/V systems and codecs, and even room lighting controls. Despite this seeming complexity, Podrabsky claimed that about 90 percent of trouble calls are still solved by HP staff remotely.

"Halo is designed to be part of a managed service. It's for companies that want to completely outsource the deployment, maintenance, break/fix and management of teleconferencing and collaboration, and not have to involve their own IT staff," he said.

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