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IP video goes where air travel cannot

Madison, Wis. - Commercial air service doesn't always please the business traveler, but interconnectivity is being viewed as more fundamental to enterprise than ever before.

That's why technology developers are encouraging potential customers to dismiss the expenses of putting employees on planes in favor of the conveniences of Internet video and mixed-media communication tools.

The demands for IP video communication vary widely. Some need the spontaneity enabled by high-definition portals to colleagues on the other side of the globe. With these portals, subtle emotional changes can be perceived with life-sized, high-resolution displays piped across a dedicated 45Mbps T-3 link, as in Hewlett-Packard's Halo product.

Others need to broadcast and capture organizational knowledge, in the form of presentations and conferences aided by graphics and other visual information, and deliver it to a wide audience. This is where local company Sonic Foundry specializes.

“Webinars”
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Equipped with IP data, voice, and video network capabilities, today's “webinars” typically include application-sharing capabilities, Web co-browsing, text messaging, and annotation. Some software allows conferences to be recorded for later playback, complete with interwoven data searching and security protocols.

“There's a whole litany of IT issues that flow from distributing, controlling, reporting, and searching the content,” explained Rimas Buinevicius, CEO of Sonic Foundry. “All those are differentiators in what we're doing.”

Buinevicius said many IP video vendors remain “broadcast-oriented,” focusing on the quality of the video above all, rather than “knowledge-oriented,” focusing on the production of searchable information packages.

TiVo to CEO

Demand for Sonic Foundry's Mediasite product has been driven by the consumer market, Buinevicius said, as VCRs, TiVo, and on-demand movies and television changed perceptions about how targeted information could be distributed.

“Those techniques are now translating themselves to the world of education, government, and corporate life, where information and knowledge is the lifeblood of many different types of organizations,” he said.

One of those organizations is the Wisconsin Public Services Resources Corp., an energy utility holding company based in Green Bay. The company purchased Sonic Foundry's recorder technology 10 months ago for $20,000.

It has used the technology's recording functions to facilitate large-scale production of compact discs for distributing information to customers, according to spokesman Doug Wallace.

The recording function is useful, he said, because employees "can quickly compile the audio, the video, and any of the onscreen material, burn it to a CD, and give it to the customer within 10 minutes.”

WPS recently tested Mediasite's Web-streaming capabilities for possible use in future communications, with the most immediate applications in company-wide internal messaging.

Virtual meetings

The model for IP video communication becomes distinct when instantaneously shrinking distances between decision-makers. Why fly when you can have virtual face-to-face interaction with the click of a button?

Web conferencing, which increasingly incorporates Voice over IP and live video via web cams, has essentially eclipsed the concept of traditional videoconferencing. With new products from HP and Cisco Systems, common problems of image clarity, latency, and eye contact are being overcome.

For many large, global enterprises, “visual collaboration” or “multimedia communications” technologies can yield returns on investment when the technology creates effective real-time interaction for recruiting, conferences, and investment presentations.

HP's Halo service, which was launched last year and boasts 60 installations and 12 customers, including PepsiCo, Dreamworks, and chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices, can cost as much as $425,000 to set up with an $18,000-per-month service fee that includes language interpreter services.

Cisco recently released its TelePresence technology, a system that uses specialized environments and high-definition plasma screens. According to Cisco, TelePresence is as simple as booking a conference room via Outlook - to initiate a call, users simply touch their appointment on a touch screen. The system costs $299,000 for virtual meetings that seat six people in each location, and $79,000 for one screen in each location, accommodating two to six people.

So far, over 200 potential customers, not including those that attended the launch event, have sent representatives to see demonstrations of the technology. John Morgridge, chairman of Cisco, said the company intends to use TelePresence to reach its directors, and might be able to increase the international composition of its board without requiring a lot of travel.

"In that [web conferencing] situation, there is more of a personal feel for the people who are part of the conference," he said, "and we'll see if that works. I'm sure the company is going to try it, but we'll use it in some form for board activity."

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