VOICECON - Hi-def cam to bring video conferencing to masses?

High-quality videoconferencing can be brought to the mass of workers not just those who can schedule time in specially constructed conference rooms

Microsoft is working with Tandberg to deliver a US$300 high-definition video camera by next year that it said will bring high-quality video conferencing to the masses.

That was the message delivered to VoiceCon Orlando 2008 Tuesday by Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft's vice president of the unified communications group, during his keynote address.

The significance is that high-quality videoconferencing can be brought to the mass of workers not just those who can schedule time in specially constructed conference rooms. "Putting innovation in the high end of video is great," Singh Pall said, "but putting it in the hands of everyday workers is how you will drive change."

The system requires two network attached PCs equipped with high-def cameras and Microsoft Open

Communications Server with a high-def upgrade that is slated for later this year. This contrasts with high-end telepresence systems. "What's next? Are they going to be selling you the chairs and the tables and the buildings?" Singh Pall asked. "Actually, they are with these telepresence systems."

Telepresence projects the illusion that participants at different sites seem to be in the same room. The systems can cost US$200,000 or more per room and includes multiple cameras, high-def wide screens, furniture, decor and ceiling sound systems.

Singh Pall demonstrated quick setup videoconferences with OCS and existing Tandberg and Polycom gear and said that with those two vendors interoperable with OCS, Microsoft has access to 74 per cent of the installed base of video conferencing gear.

Quick setup is key, he said, because the average time to set up a videoconference is 18 minutes, which taxes users' patience.

Singh Pall also showed the integration of OCS with a hospital radiology system that is used to connect radiologists reading digital MRIs to physicians treating patients in emergency rooms. OCS set up a voice-video link and a shared-screen session to look at the MRI.

Microsoft also announced an alliance with contact-center vendor Aspect Software to integrate its platform with OCS's voice and unified communications capabilities. Using presence information to bring in appropriate experts on calls can result in more customer issues being resolved on the first call and individual agents being able to clear more calls.

"The impact means collaboration can improve the productivity of information workers," Singh Pall said.

Recalling his keynote address at this conference last year, Singh Pall again pitted OCS against existing PBXs. "PBXes vs. distributed voice," he said. "The choice is yours."

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