Cisco rolls out low-end ($US89K) telepresence system

Networking vendor to unveil a low-end version of its telepresence system

Cisco is announcing at VoiceCon Orlando a lower cost telepresence system designed for deployment in existing teleconference rooms without upgrading them to accommodate top-of-the-line telepresence gear.

Called CTS 1300, the device consists of a 65-inch high definition screen and three high definition cameras mounted above a coder-decoder. The unit is installed against a wall and is 9 inches deep.

Cisco says the device costs less than $US89,000 as compared to its top-shelf room telepresence system that costs northward of $US300,000.

If three people are in the room with the CTS 1300, each person has a camera trained on them, but only the image of the current speaker is presented to the screens at other sites participating in the conference. A full-blown room telepresence system would have three screens in a room built to accommodate speakers, microphones lighting and décor to match all the other telepresence rooms owned by a customer.

The idea is to crate the impression that all participants are in the same room sitting across the table from each other, including cameras mounted so it appears that participants in different locations are looking each other in the eye.

CTS 1300 can send and receive at 1080p resolution and drop down to 720p for sites with less than 2Mbps network bandwidth. The device also supports a technology Cisco calls 720p Light that runs over 1.5Mbps links such as T-1 circuits at full 30 frames per second. It does this by grabbing bandwidth dedicated to data transmissions for the conference and slowing the data rate to one frame per second.

The light version can run over DSL or cable connections as well but quality might not be as good without guaranteed 1.5Mbps bandwidth. Teleworkers using Cisco Virtual Office, a VPN link to a corporate office that supports VoIP and includes switching, routing and wireless support.

CTS 1300 is the first in a product line that will include models with smaller screens or just a single camera, for instance, Cisco says.

Cisco competitor Tandberg has a 720p resolution video system called Profile with one screen that costs $US38,900 that can be boosted to 1080p with a high definition add-on. Tandberg's low-end telepresence system costs $US69,900.

Cisco is also introducing Recording Studio, an application that runs on Cisco telepresence systems that enables using the gear to produce high-quality prerecorded videos for mass viewing. Recording Studio includes a server that hosts the videos, and those that want to view it can do so by responding to its URL.

The application is supported by the telepresence conference phone that will include a record button similar to the connect button they already have to initiate conferences. Recording studio is priced not to exceed $US100,000 Cisco says.

The company is also introducing Event Control that enables live direction of a telepresence conference. So if a conference includes a guest speaker, that person's image can be kept on the screen at all times regardless who is talking. Telepresence sessions generally display the last talkers. A prototype of this technology was used at Cisco's VoiceCon keynote last year [to conference in former Vice President Al Gore], who spoke favorably of telepresence gear as a way to reduce the energy spent on conferences.

Cisco is also demonstrating any-to-any sessions between its telepresence sites and high-definition videoconferencing gear. The key feature of this interoperability is that it does not reduce the resolution to the level of any of the participating equipment. Those sites capable of telepresence will maintain telepresence connections with other sites that also support it.

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