Short, sweet and to the point. That’s what news conferences should be. And that’s exactly how HP did it for a packed room of journalists at the Intel Developers Conference on Tuesday the 22nd to announce its SkyRoom video conferencing system. In less than half an hour, Jeff Wood, the Director of Worldwide Marketing, HP Workstations, hit all the highlights of the new system, including a live demo with Robert Casey, Director, HP Workstations, that included the ultra-fast manipulation of a 3D image on Jeff’s system in the conference room that was echoed simultaneously on Robert’s system in Bangkok (the Bangkok meeting room at the San Francisco Marriott, that is). Very impressive.
And just as impressive is the way HP has chosen to make SkyRom available. It comes preinstalled at no cost on the HP Z800, Z600, Z400 and xw4600 workstations, and customers using current HP workstations, desktops, notebooks or non-HP systems can purchase it at a one-time cost of $149. In addition, select premium business PCs and notebooks due out from HP in the coming months will include a 90-day trial of SkyRoom, which will be available for purchase after the trial period. All-in-all, a pretty good way to get the system into the hands of users at a reasonable price.
So, what is HP SkyRoom and what does it do? It’s a videoconferencing tool that combines high-end video conferencing with rich media sharing, and delivers a personal collaboration solution to the desktop that can bring up to four team members together to work virtually side-by-side via video conference, enabling critical, effective collaboration across any distance. The HP SkyRoom software on the presenter’s system monitors and updates only changes in screen appearance – not the entire display – then compresses and encrypts the information before sending it to the participants, where it is decrypted, decompressed and updated. This greatly reduces network traffic, latency and bandwidth requirements, and eliminates the need for dedicated networking hardware.
For less than the cost of round-trip airfare between San Francisco and Los Angeles, SkyRoom replaces the enterprise telepresence systems and freeware Internet tools that have been the only alternatives until now, making video meetings -- with genuine eye contact, document sharing and natural human interaction -- as easy to start and conduct as an instant messaging connection (existing buddy lists are inherited and connections are made by just clicking on the desired contact). And it integrates with Microsoft Outlook to expedite scheduling meetings.
Once connected, users can share any type of application supported on their PCs or workstations, including office documents and streaming video and interactive 3-D applications, such as digital content for sophisticated design concepts, previews of animation clips, and live financial models for discussion and collaboration among teams spread across the world, at 15 frames per second or greater.
A VPN connection is used outside a corporate network to give access from remote locations. And with multiple security techniques, including encryption of all media streams and video as well as extensive authorization and authentication, the entire meeting and all its contents can be as secret as wanted.
The technology behind HP SkyRoom comes from the combination of high definition, multi-user videoconferencing (including, according to Jeff, an innovative high-definition codec) and a sophisticated capability to share display information more securely than with actual transfer of data and processing functions. A multithreaded video engine enables all participants to see the presenter’s display and each other through a multi-way videoconferencing session, taking advantage of the power of today’s multiprocessor and multicore processing technologies. An image engine gives remote users a view of the host presenter’s desktop and its applications as if they were using a local machine. It enables the display of 2D and 3D graphics, full-motion video and multiple displays on a system that only has a 2D graphics card. The minimum requirements to run HP SkyRoom on any PC are an Intel® Core 2™ Duo 2.33-GHz or equivalent processor with 2GB RAM, a webcam and Microsoft Windows® XP or Vista®. Minimum network requirement is a broadband network with a transfer rate of at least 400kb/second.
The result of three years of research in designing video and image compression algorithms by HP Labs and integrating them into a customer-centric implementation by the HP Workstation team, SkyRoom looks like it will be a valuable tool in stitching together the constantly growing fabric of the global economy.
By Joseph Fowler
Joe is the president of JCF Communications, and has been covering the technical world writing literally thousands of reviews and technical papers for more than 30 years.