Cisco zooms in on enterprise video

Cisco is readying a high-definition 'telepresence' system for videoconferencing.

Fresh on the heels of its acquisition of video infrastructure vendor Scientific-Atlanta, Cisco Systems is making big bets on video for enterprises.

President and Chief Executive Officer John Chambers gave a few clues on Wednesday about a "telepresence" system that he said will make videoconferencing more lifelike; the company is soon to unveil software for enterprises to manage and present video content for employees, partners and the public.

The telepresence system will use "life-size" high-definition video and directional sound technology that makes voices seem to come from where a user is located at the remote site, Chambers said. It will even include better lighting than current systems, said Donald Proctor, senior vice president of Cisco's Voice Technology Group, in an interview at the conference. Proctor declined to give more details on the technology.

Cisco expects the system to be announced later this year and become commercially available in about a year, Proctor said.

Videoconferencing has had a rocky history over many years, with expectations of a boom frequently dashed. Previous systems have failed because of complexity, high cost and generally poor quality, according to Proctor.

Cisco will solve the complexity problem by making the telepresence system just one component of its overall Unified Communications architecture, which also includes IP (Internet Protocol) telephony, text messaging, application collaboration and desktop videoconferencing, Proctor said. Enterprises will be able to plug it into that infrastructure, he said. Telepresence initially is designed not for desktop use but for corporate boardrooms or dedicated videoconference rooms, Proctor said.

In a question-and-answer session with media at the conference, Chambers signaled a strong emphasis on video at Cisco.

"Video communications is the most effective way to communicate there is," Chambers said, referring to both videoconferencing and video on demand. However, he added that it will continue to coexist with other forms of communications.

Cisco has even seen interest from enterprises in the set-top box technology coming from Scientific-Atlanta, said Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer Charles Giancarlo. They want a reliable, inexpensive, easy-to-use platform for one-way video programs such as training, he said in an interview.

The Cisco Video Management System has been deployed at several of Cisco's enterprise customers already, said Joni Blakeslee, a business development manager at Cisco. It is designed for enterprises to organize video content that in many cases is inaccessible and make it available over internal IP networks and the Web, she said.

The system builds on software Cisco is already using to deliver its own video content and includes tools for enterprises to customize the interface for presenting the video, Blakeslee said.

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