Hewlett-Packard: soon to make "telepresence" more affordable and accessible?

We’ve been following Hewlett-Packard’s development and design of Halo, the high-end (around $300,000) videoconferencing system for a few years. Today, the company is announcing the fruit of its collaboration with Tandberg, maker of both desktop and sophisticated video-meeting equipment.

What this means is that ultra-realistic video conferencing will, at least in theory, get more affordable for more customers. The timing is right—as companies slash travel budgets. (A few months ago, my colleague Michelle Conlin wrote about the trend toward fewer business trips, including at HP itself)

I spoke with both Ken Crangle, general manager of HP’s Halo Telepresence Solutions, and Steve Vobbe, Tandberg’s global marketing manager. Crangle said the initial impetus for the collaboration a couple of years ago was to sniff out – and work with – the competition. The open-innovation approach led to new initiatives that aligns with HP’s more macro goals. For example, as HP has been shifting more toward services in the last several years, and the company is now offering extensive service for a wide range of teleconferencing units (from Halo to Tandberg’s systems)—part of the announcement today. The new service offerings will be available for customers in early 2009.

Back in January 2007, the companies announced they'd work together to make their systems interoperable, using HVEN (the Hewlett-Packard Video Exchange Network), a dedicated, secure video network, so individual companies' IT conduits won't get overburdened by carrying the crisp images and sound along with corporate email. And then this past June, the companies announced that HP would invest in developing services for the expanded teleconferencing systems. Each company will continue with their own research and development efforts, but work alongside one another to ensure the future equipment will be compatible. The two corporations are also working to promote standards among other telepresence manufacturers.

I asked both Crangle and Vobbe if the two companies were working on a consumer version – which seems to make a lot of sense, with more and more everyday online videoconferencing going on via Skype and AIM. Both told me that their own families would immediately gravitate toward a more elegant videoconferencing option other than what's availble via VOIP. Vobbe even said his kids ask him to "call them on video" when he's on the road and calls them on his mobile phone. But both Crangle and Vobbe said there are no plans yet for a Halo-Tandberg product for consumers, but hinted that yes, it would make sense to follow such a market.