HP builds collaboration tool into workstations

The SkyRoom software for application sharing and high-definition video also will be sold for $US149

Hewlett-Packard is building collaboration software with video, application-sharing and 3-D graphics support into several of its workstation models, giving the high-definition conferencing market an option well below the cost and scale of telepresence.

The HP SkyRoom software, which was set to be announced on Tuesday, works on systems with a fairly modest set of requirements, starting with a 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo or equivalent processor. It needs only an Internet connection of 400Kb per second, plus a VPN (virtual private network) to connect to systems outside an enterprise firewall.

With the software, users can click on the name of a contact to start up a SkyRoom session with them. With another click, they can share rich media or what's happening on their desktops. Multiple users can join in to these sessions and see the host presenter's desktop as if they were using their own machines. The software supports display of any type of application on a Windows XP or Vista PC, including streaming video, according to HP.

HP says SkyRoom is based on video and image compression algorithms it developed over the course of three years. It can deliver a high level of performance on relatively modest systems and networks by compressing and encrypting data before it's sent to participants. SkyRoom saves work by updating only changes in screen appearance, not the whole screen, HP said. The company named digital content teams, animation production houses and global financial teams running live economic models as possible users of the software.

The software should be an ideal tool for teams that design physical things, because it will let one designer show others what's wrong with the item, such as a corner that's too sharp, said IDC analyst Abner Germanow.

"It's one thing to describe a design problem over e-mail. It's another thing to describe it over video," Germanow said. Telepresence, which typically involves dedicated rooms or purpose-built systems, would be overkill for these kinds of sessions, he said. SkyRoom is strictly software, with lower network requirements and no special service fees, and engineers may use it for all-day sessions, he said.

SkyRoom is available worldwide as a free, preinstalled feature of HP Z800, Z600, Z400 and xw4600 workstations. Some premium business PCs and laptops coming from HP in the next few months will offer the software on a 90-day trial basis.

The software is also available for purchase for an estimated U.S. street price of US$149 and can be used on workstations and PCs from Dell, Lenovo and Sun, HP said. In addition to the Core 2 Duo or equivalent processor, those systems will need at least 2GB of RAM, a webcam and XP or Vista. HP is also offering the HP SkyRoom Accessory Kit, which includes a high-resolution webcam and headphones or speakers, for $US119.

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