Wednesday, 12 November 2008 12:31

HP puts a saintly Halo on videoconferencing

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Hands up all those dissatisfied with conventional teleconferencing systems. Keep your hand up if you've had the chance to try HP's Halo system and are still not happy. What, nobody?

Most teleconferencing systems suffer from one or more shortcomings. Fairly ordinary video quality in terms of resolution, frame rates and even dropped frames. Average sound, sometimes with poor synchronisation and even a degree of feedback. Inconvenient user interfaces. The list goes on.

One way to overcome these issues is to think about what's actually needed, provide hardware and pipes that can actually do the job, and move from the idea of teleconferencing as a product to a fully managed solution.

And that's what HP has done with Halo.

The experience provided by the six-seat Halo Collaboration Studio is remarkably close to talking to people across the table, to the extent that the term 'telepresence' really seems justified.

This is partly the result of the company managing the entire meeting room build, so furniture and other surfaces match across locations.

High quality AV gear helps, of course. A Studio setup includes three HD screens and cameras for the videoconferencing side, plus a collaboration screen to share a computer display or images from the overhead camera mounted in each room for a high-res view of documents or physical objects.

The secret is in the network - see page 2.


Another key component is the Halo Video Exchange Network (HVEN) operated by HP to connect Halo sites within and between customers. It's "the secret to being able to deliver this sort of experience on a global basis," according to Darren Podrabsky, marketing manager for HP Halo telepresence solutions.

The network provides large amounts of bandwidth on an 'always available' basis. It connects to telco-neutral carrier hotels in cities around the world, with dedicated 45Mbps links to customer premises.

The only part of the installation for which the customer is responsible is connecting the Halo room to the demarcation point where the 45Mbps cable comes into the building.

Making the system easy to use, reliable and immersive means that people will use it, according to Podrabsky. In the event that a user runs into a problem with the service or equipment, HP provides a round the clock concierge service from Puerto Rico. The concierge can even remotely switch off the room lights.

Users include HP itself, AMD, Canon, DreamWorks and KPMG. The original Halo setup was built for DreamWorks, which wanted a way of collaborating with its partners on one of the Shrek movies.

If a $A447,000 Halo Collaboration Studio is a little too rich for you - and remember that you'll probably need at least two! - there are alternatives. The Halo Collaboration Meeting Room ($A319,000) puts the Halo gear into an existing meeting room, and there are also two and four seat Collaboration Centres ($A153,000 and $A173,000).

But the upfront cost is just the beginning. Depending on the configuration, you'll be up for monthly charges of $A23,000 to $A32,000 for service to Sydney, Melbourne, Perth or Adelaide.

If you have conventional videoconferencing gear at some locations that can't justify a Halo setup, you can have them linked to HVEN for between $A6400 and $29,500 per month.

Does that sound a lot? According to HP, customers find they can recoup the cost in six to 12 months from reduced travel expenditure and increased productivity.

Clearly this is something for the enterprise market. But if you only have an intermittent need for this sort of system, there may still be a Halo in your future as HP has an agreement with Marriott to make Halo rooms available on a pay-per-use basis at hotels in major business centres.

Updated 13/11/08 to reflect corrected pricing from HP.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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