Let’s take an imaginary look at the office of the future, perhaps even the near future. Forget picking up a phone. You will simply tell your computer, “Phone home,” and one of your office walls will flicker to life when your spouse, child or genetically engineered SmartDog answers. On their end they will enjoy the same, totally immersive experience. That’s “tele-immersion,” a Brave New World-ish technology that can bring two or more distant locations into one simulated setting. It could put a big dent in business travel, no question about it.
Even today, you can rent a nice plasma display from CRE, add some software to a sufficiently powerful computer, hook up your webcam and have a pretty impressive videoconference. Tele-immersion, however, is a new kind of communication that goes way beyond videoconferencing. If you’ve used a webcam for a videoconference then you know that it is far from a perfect form of communication, with hardware limitations, software glitches and network delays that can create “jerky” video. In addition, walking out of view of your single camera will cause you to disappear from the other person’s view.
In a tele-immersion scenario, not only can’t you disappear from view (unless you leave the room), the person you are speaking with can look around your office simply by viewing their display screen from various angles. It’s pretty much like looking through a window. The most advanced holographic environments will require computers many thousands of times faster and more powerful than even the Mac Pro “personal supercomputer” that CRE rents. This is why today’s systems are hugely expensive, build-to-order propositions, or installed at tele-immersive “studios” where you would book time for holding your teleconference.
Yet there are working systems online today. Cisco’s “On-Stage” TelePresence Experience captures holographic meetings for broadcast over IPTV (Internet Protocol TeleVision), so TVs or PCs with wireless or wired broadband connections can join in. Cisco says there are over 150 rooms, in almost 30 countries, now capable of high-definition videoconferencing. Today’s computer/Internet kiosks, like the Friendlyway Interactive rental available from CRE, will quite likely evolve into service platforms where customers can interact with real people, in real time.
Perhaps five years from now, telepresence will no longer be restricted to special locations or costly devices. Cisco engineers and tech pundits alike are predicting that homes, offices and hotels will be on the holographic conferencing bandwagon—they just can’t say exactly when. Another firm, however, thinks it is onto a better way already. DVE (Digital Video Enterprises) has designed its Tele-Immersive Room with industry standards that allow other, older videoconferencing systems to participate in the “DVE experience.”
DVE is assisting Christie Digital Systems with the integration of its technology into Christie’s Mirage HD3 units, among the most impressive projectors in the world. The Mirage HD3 leverages 1080p DLP (Digital Light Processing) technology to deliver an incredible 120 frames per second of lifelike, high-definition, flicker-free, active stereo imagery.
Before following the usual technology “trickle down” route to the enterprise level, 3D holographic teleconferencing will likely be used at large conventions, media events and conferences. After that—again, no one knows when or cares to predict with any specificity—the tele-immersive experience will come to the average person’s office or home. Your friends could walk into your living room, virtually speaking, and talk to you the same way that Princess Leia did with Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. The possibilities of this futuristically realistic technology are limited only by the imagination, and there seems to be plenty of that still left in the world judging by what Cisco, DVE and others are doing.