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The Past, Present, and Future of Video Telecommunication or, The 3% Solution. Dave Lindbergh IMTC Fall Forum November 2008. Contents. Hooke Labs & how we use video Past How we got to this point Present Successful niches for video Why no mass-market adoption of video? False reasons

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The past present and future of video telecommunication or the 3 solution l.jpg

The Past, Present, and Future of Video Telecommunicationor,The 3% Solution

Dave Lindbergh

IMTC Fall Forum

November 2008

Contents l.jpg


  • Hooke Labs & how we use video

  • Past

    • How we got to this point

  • Present

    • Successful niches for video

    • Why no mass-market adoption of video?

    • False reasons

    • User expectations  Correct reasons (my opinion)

  • Future

    • How to succeed: The 3% Solution

Thesis l.jpg


  • Video telecom is in < 1% of conference rooms

    • ~ 0% of homes

  • Mass acceptance has never occurred

    • Despite huge consumer enthusiasm for video

    • Despite good solutions to traditional problems

  • Because the quality of experience falls short

    • The “sense of being there” is disappointing

  • This will change

    • Telepresence market is the lever

    • Gradual improvements will lead to the mass-market

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Hooke’s use of video

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Hooke Laboratories

  • Start-up biotech CRO & manufacturer

  • Typical CRO contract $5000 to $50,000

  • Customers all over the world

    • USA, Canada

    • Europe

    • Asia

    • South America

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Hooke is well-equipped for video

  • Co-founder w/14 years in video conferencing

  • Broadband Internet connection

  • Skype + webcams

  • Polycom VSX 7000 (H.323, SIP, H.320)

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How often does Hooke use video?

  • Never

    • Not once

  • Why not? And what can be done about that?

    • That is what this talk is about

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How we got here

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Video telephony system

  • 18 frames/second

  • Progressive scan

  • Plasma display

  • Pixel aspect ratio 3:2

  • Image quality described as “excellent”

  • End-to-end latency 1 millisecond (great!)

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7 April 1927 – Bell Labs

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New York – Washington DC

Walter GiffordHerbert Hoover

President, AT&TUS Sec’y of Commerce

New York Washington DC

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“Television” = Telephone + Vision

  • 50x50 pixel display, neon bulbs

  • Camera: Arc lamp beam, mechanical scanning

  • Optional projection to 2x3 feet

    • But “results were not so good”

Edna Mae Horner


Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company

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AT&T Picturephone

1957 “Experimental Model”

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Early 1960s


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AT&T was very serious

  • Plenty of smart business people!


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AT&T was not alone

Lots of investment, market research, usability studies…

NTT, 1968 Philips, 1974

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AT&T quietly gave up in the early 1970s

  • Did it “cost too much”?

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1980s – Still image picture phones

  • Mid-1980s: Japanese consumer electronic firms introduced still-image picture phones

    • Used existing regular analog phone line

    • POTS modem

    • ~ 5 seconds to send 1 black & white frame

    • No audio during picture transmission

    • ~$200 each

  • Very few takers

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1992 – AT&T Videophone 2500

  • “Predicting that 10 years from now video phones will be as popular as cordless phones and fax machines, last week AT&T introduced the first full-color motion video phone that operates over regular phone lines…”

    • Newsweek, January 20, 1992

  • 10 frames/second, $1500

  • Marconi, others, had similar products

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Many more videophones since then

  • They all worked

  • Their makers all expected commercial success

  • And why not?

    • Consumers are consistently excited at the idea of video telecommunication

Siemens T-View (H.320 ISDN) ~ 1997

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Maybe the technology wasn’t ready

  • Too expensive

  • Poor video quality

  • Not enough bandwidth

  • Maybe the time is finally right

    • Maybe your company is thinking about introducing a video phone

    • Maybe you think now is the time

  • If so…

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…you are not alone

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Others have thought so, too

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Really, more than you might think

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...a lot more

And more l.jpg

…and more…

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…and more.

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  • Video phones are in every home and every office

  • Well, no

  • Why not???

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People want video communication

  • Witness all the attempts

  • Just talk to potential users – lots of excitement

  • But they don’t buy or use video when offered

    • Except for narrow niche applications

  • For some reason people are disappointed

    • We need to understand why before we can fix this

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Progress so far

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A successful, but small, industry

  • Video conferencing

    • ~$2B/year (generously)

    • Doesn’t seem to be growing much

  • Telepresence

    • ~$100M/year(?), growing fast

    • Expense limits market size

      (Wainhouse says < $1B)

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Video telecommunication today

  • Video conferencing offered since mid-1980s

    • More than 20 years

  • More successful than video phones

  • Why?

    • High-value application

    • Relatively big picture, high resolution

    • Less restriction on where people are in the frame

    • More “like being there” than video phones

    • At work – people are paid to use it

  • But…

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After 20+ years, video is in < 1% of conference rooms

Lots of room for growth 

Similar problems as stopped video telephony 


October 14, 2008

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People want visual communicationSo – Why?

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Challenges today – are these the problem?

  • Connectivity issues

    • Incompatible protocols & standards

    • NATs and firewalls

    • Network fragmentation

      • IP, ISDN, POTS, 3G, 4G…

    • No public/automatic gateways and bridges

  • Too much latency

    • And lots of denial about it; doesn’t help

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Videophones didn’t have connectivity problems (mostly)

  • Early videophones solved connectivity

    • Offered & operated by carriers

    • Simple analog devices

  • Many videophones were utterly reliable

    • POTS models used voice network (w/modems)

  • Reliability was not the problem

  • Connectivity was not the problem

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Why no mass adoption – is it cost?

  • AT&T spent $billions – lots of market research

    • Best and brightest people in the world

    • They were sure it would sell

  • Many free services: PC + $15 webcam

    • Skype, AIM, Yahoo, MS Messenger, NetMeeting…

  • Many video phones were/are offered by carriers with subsidies

    • Phones under $300 common

    • Same usage fees as voice calls

  • Probably not cost

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Is it ease of use?

  • AT&T Picturephone was a telephone

    • Pick up phone, dial number

  • Most videophones are equally easy to use

  • Probably not ease of use

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Is it video quality? Latency?

  • Many products have very good video quality

    • Even bad pictures look good on small displays

    • 1960s analog phones had good quality

  • Modern VC systems have excellent video quality, large displays, but still haven’t enjoyed mass adoption

  • Phones of the 1960s and 1970s were analog

    • No extra latency

  • Probably not these, either

    • All these things are very important – necessary

    • But they don’t seem to be sufficient

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The mass adoption barrier

  • Video conferencing is a successful niche

    • But very far from mass adoption (< 1%)

  • Video telephony hasn’t succeeded yet

    • Yet, clearly there is a market desire!

  • Current issues do not explain past failures

    • Standards, connectivity were solved for videophones

    • Latency was not a problem in the analog world

  • Then what is required for success?

    • Why have users not yet embraced video telephony?

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Fiction creates expectations

Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1926)

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Fiction reflects expectations

  • Where are the cameras?

  • This is impossible with today’s video

  • But it is expected

The Jetsons (Hanna-Barbera, 1962)

The Jetsons (Hanna-Barbera, 1962)

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Perfect framing, perfect lighting

Star Trek (Paramount, 1967)

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Nobody is nervous “on camera”

  • Actors look straight into the camera

  • Professional cinematography / videography

  • Multiple camera positions & zooms

  • Directors choose the best shots

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

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Real video is not like fictional video

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What will it take for mass adoption?

  • More than just:

    • Cost

    • Latency

    • Reliability

    • Connectivity

    • Resolution

    • Picture size

    • Ease of use

  • These are all necessary, but not sufficient

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What is the problem, then?

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Quality of Experience

  • The “sense of being there” is disappointing

    • At least, weaker than people expect & want

  • VC is not enough like being in the same place

    • Eye contact

    • Peripheral vision

    • Depth perception

    • Awareness of framing

    • Perceived distance to other people

    • Ability to interrupt

    • Certainly other things, too

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Video is much harder than it seems

  • Video is not “just another channel”

    • Text, audio, video, right? Wrong.

  • Far-end can’t tell where you put the keyboard

  • Microphone location is not very important

  • The camera location matters

    • Each person has a different viewpoint

    • People direct their gaze at each other

    • People are aware when others look at them

    • Viewpoints matter

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George Jetson & Mr. Spacely

  • Study this image

  • It illustrates a lot about what consumers expect from video telecommunication

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George Jetson & Mr. Spacely

  • Mr. Spacely is much larger than Jetson

  • That is because Mr. Spacely is the boss

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George Jetson & Mr. Spacely

  • Jetson is not thinkingabout whether he’s still in the frame

  • Even though he’s jumped out of his seat

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George Jetson & Mr. Spacely

  • Mr. Spacely appears very close to Jetson

    • A confrontational distance

    • Not at the opposite end of a room

  • This is why he’s jumped out of his seat

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George Jetson & Mr. Spacely

  • Mr. Spacely’s image is above Jetson

  • This, also, is because Spacely is the boss

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George Jetson & Mr. Spacely

  • We expect that Spacely has peripheral vision

    • Spacely could tellif we (the viewer) were in the room

  • We feel Spacely could look at us if he wanted to

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George Jetson & Mr. Spacely

  • We can tell who Mr. Spacely is looking at

  • Jetson and Spacely have eye contact

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George Jetson & Mr. Spacely

  • But we, the viewer, do not have eye contact with either of them

  • Because they are looking at each other, not us

  • If we were in the room, this would feel natural

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George Jetson & Mr. Spacely

  • The artist knows all this without being told

  • But video engineers do not

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Video viewpoints & perspectives

  • Image size matters

  • Display distance matters

    • These depend on each other

    • And on type of conversation

  • Camera height matters

    • Face above camera = Dominant

      • like Mr. Spacely

      • Judges and kings sit up high

  • There is no single “right” answer

    • People can either stand or sit

    • Multiple viewers in different positions

1984 (Apple Computer, 1984)

V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2006)

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  • Mother (Albert Brooks, 1996)

    • Rob Morrow and Debbie Reynolds on videophone

  • In film & TV, directors choose the right shot

    • And change shots

    • To focus attention on what is important

  • Consciousness of framing can be distracting

  • Loose enough for freedom of movement

  • Enough detail & size to see faces clearly

    • Difficult to achieve both at the same time

    • Main achievement of today’s “telepresence” systems

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Perceived interpersonal distance

  • Critical for natural-feeling conversation

  • Controlled by size and distance of image

  • “Right” distance varies by type of conversation

    • Intimate, professional, adversarial, etc.

    • Some cultural dependence

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More stuff

  • Peripheral vision

    • Who is there

    • Who is looking at us

    • Who is paying attention

    • Who is trying to interrupt

  • Side conversations

  • Depth perception

    • Focus

    • Parallax

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Why is this so complicated?

  • Voice telephony doesn’t have these problems

    • So why does adding video make things worse?

  • Because people are evolved to talk in the dark

    • This is why using the telephone feels natural

  • Because video is not “just another channel”

    • But that’s how engineers usually think about it

    • It’s something very different

  • The visual communications experience is expected to feel more natural and intuitive

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The 3% Solution

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What the market really wants:Telepresence

  • The real thing – “like being there”

  • Today’s telepresence is a big improvement

    • Picture size and quality are clearly sufficient

    • Peripheral vision & framing are solved

    • High expense limits market size

  • Mass acceptance requires high Quality of Experienceat an affordable cost

  • Under 1% of the potential market is served now

    • Even small improvements can make a big difference

    • Start by getting to 3%

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Telepresence = Innovation Opportunity

  • Telepresence market is not as cost sensitive

    • But very interested in real improvements

    • Tech will trickle down to lower-cost systems later

  • It doesn’t have to be perfect – just a little better

    • Remember, 3% is the goal (!)

  • How to get there? Prototype many ideas

    • Tinker, experiment … try out lots of ideas

    • We all think our untested ideas will work!

    • Yet most new ideas fail

    • So build them & test them – cheaply

    • Prototypes, not products

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Usable by anyone



Cheap in volume

Automated with software


Usable by builders only



Expensive (build just 2)

Run manually by people

Products vs. Prototypes



  • Take risks, but ones you can afford – prototypes

    • Most new ideas are no good

    • If it’s not risky, it’s not innovation

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Example – CNN “hologram”, 2008-11-04

  • Not really a hologram

  • I don’t claim this is practical

  • Shows only that more is possible than we are accustomed to


  • Maybe better not to ask how it works

    • Use it as an inspiration – how can you make it work?

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Try something new

Seek improvement



Use off-the-shelf tech

Listen to end-users

Lead the market

Focus on un-served 99%

Repeat past failures

Despair at imperfection


Commit to untried ideas

Push existing envelope

Listen to customers

Follow the competition

Focus on existing 1%

Parting advice



  • Someone will get there & collect the pot of gold

    • Why not you?

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Thank you!

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