As a telecommuter, I’m on the far end of a lot of conference calls. Unfortunately, high quality video conferencing hardware is a bit beyond our budget. We’ve tried a staff-built, two-camera contraption, but mostly we rely on voice-only calls. Which, from my end, are really hard to follow.
Altia Systems, a Silicon Valley company that launched at Demo Mobile this week in San Francisco, has organizations like mine squarely in its sights with a US $600 video conferencing "puck" and cloud-based conferencing system that it calls PanaCast. The puck has six cameras in it and audio inputs (BYO microphones). The system collects the video and audio, stitches them into a 250-degree panorama, compresses the data, and transmits it over the Internet, working in real time over Wi-Fi, 4g, or even 3G connections.
The coolest aspect, from my perspective, shows itself on the other end, where the lonely telecommuter (me) is trying to watch, or worse, listen to, her colleagues banter in a crowded conference room. Anyone remotely participating in the video conference can independently pan around the room and zoom in and out. Which means I could finally see who's talking, what’s on the whiteboard, and what snack goodies are being passed around. I plan on reviewing this one, and will let you know if it works as well in real life as it did when the Altia founders demonstrated it to me (see video, above).
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Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.