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Building An Affordable Telepresence Room With SCOPIA

December 1, 2010 | Chris Payatagool
radvision_logo.jpgvia Radvision Blog by Yoav Nativ

A few weeks ago, while doing some renovations in our office, I noticed one unutilized rectangular room. An immediate thought crossed my mind: "Let's turn it into a telepresence room". The timing was perfect, as our new SCOPIA solution version (7.5) is in final development stages and one of the nice features in this release is Telepresence Interoperability.

scopia_white_man.jpgTelepresence room? That sounds nice. But what is a telepresence room anyway? In my previous office we have installed a very expensive multi-codec telepresence system (3 cameras, 3 screens) from one of the leading vendors, which was used only once due to lack of interoperability and ease of use. No need to mention that the cost of that solution was around $300,000.

So how can you set-up an affordable telepresence room that is easy to use, interoperable and has the highest quality, as one would expect from telepresence?

Well, we have decided to use only the existing furniture and video conferencing equipment and spend as little as possible, as we had no budget for this project.

The room
We have used an existing room, so the only thing we did was painting the back wall in blue.

Screens and Codecs
We used 3 existing LCD screens. Luckily for us, with the release of our new XT1000 endpoint, all the previous endpoints were replaced with RADVISION endpoints, so we had some spare endpoints from different vendors. As the SCOPIA solution works with any endpoint (even telepresence systems) - we have used those second hand ones.

As for data collaboration, we have used an old projector that we had and hung it on top.

We have taken 4 old office and kitchen tables, cut them, connected them, reassembled the legs according to the desired seating position and bought 6 new chairs - we got a good bargain at Staples (this was the only expense for this project).

Here's what is looks like:

scopia_telepresence_room.jpg Connecting the system
We have assigned IP and E.164 addresses to each endpoint and registered them to the gatekeeper. Then, we have placed objects between the segments and used the endpoints' web and command line interface in order to align the three cameras.

Using the SCOPIA management system (iVIEW version 7.5), and using the Telepresence Interoperability feature, we have defined the room as a "telepresence room" in a few seconds. Yes, this release not only provides multi-stream connectivity to leading telepresence vendors, such as Polycom, Tandberg, LifeSize and Cisco, but also gives you the ability to use any 3 endpoints as a "telepresence system".

scopia_iview.jpgSo, as part of the iVIEW configuration, we have added a new "endpoint" and marked it as a "Telepresence system". Now we had the option to select a "vendor", and we have selected "Generic Telepresence", as this is our own customized solution. Once this option is selected we had to provide the E.164 numbers for the left, center and right endpoints, and... that's it.

Making the first call
As all the 3 endpoints were now defined in iVIEW as a single "room", inviting the room was now as simple as can be: all you need to do is invite one of the endpoints to the conference and iVIEW will invite the two others automatically. In addition, iVIEW will take care of the entire layout and placement of the three segments, eliminating the separator between them, providing a panoramic view of the room. Here's how it looks when you connect from your desktop or any room system:

scopia_desktop_view.jpgAnd here is what you see when you sit in our new telepresence room:

scopia_room.jpgYou can see that the last active speakers are seen on the large screens, where the other participants are located in the small quadrants - and the experience is great.

By using existing equipment and almost no expenses, we have managed to create an affordable telepresence room using the SCOPIA solution.

Since the launch of this "side project", the room is used daily for conferences, demos, and customers briefings. The ease of use (just dial a single E.164 number from any conference) makes this system reachable from every office worldwide.

Several times a day I walk into the room and see people using it. Now I guess it's up to you to decide whether you want to spend a lot of money on a "commercial" system or be creative, use your existing equipment and start enjoying a telepresence experience now.

[Yoav Nativ has been working for RADVISION for almost a decade. He managed teams in the NBU R&D body, was in charge of product management, and currently is Director of Sales Development, working in our New Jersey office.
When Yoav told me about his venture setting up a telepresence room in our NJ office, I asked him to share the story, and here it is for you.]

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