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HP creates Halo effect for videoconferencing

Tech company teams with "Shrek" studio for a system that includes life-size images projected on plasma displays.

NEW YORK--Hewlett-Packard has launched a new videoconferencing product, underscoring its ambition to become a leading player in the enterprise collaboration market.

Dubbed the HP Halo Collaboration Studio, the e-conferencing package encompasses digital visual products and collaboration software tools. It can create realistic collaborative interaction through a color-calibrated visual experience, a key differentiator compared with traditional products, the company said.

"It's something we believe will not only disrupt the traditional videoconferencing market but will also change the way people work in a global market," Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president of HP's imaging and printing group, said Monday at a release event here.

Joshi noted that HP drew from its experience in developing color science, imaging and networking technology, and built the concept for Halo with the help of DreamWorks Animation, the maker of animated films such as "Shrek" and "Madagascar."

According to DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, the animation company first broached the idea to design a new offering because it experienced "great frustration" with existing products in the market.

"We found ourselves (after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001) in a difficult position of having to bring together the right creative designers who were located in different places," he said.

With traditional products, he said, participants in a videoconference could not smoothly hold multiple conversations or share visual images of smaller details on physical items.

Halo currently is available only in one standard configuration. Each room using the Halo system is set up for six people and consists of three plasma displays and studio-quality audio and lighting equipment. Three cameras reflect images on the middle, left and right sides of the room.

Running on a 54mbps T3 line, a typical Halo room is controlled via a centralized software interface that allows participants to switch between rooms and enables documents to be shared directly from their notebook computers.

Participants can see each other in life-size images projected on the plasma displays and use a dedicated camera to project and zoom in on physical products on a table. Although HP is marketing the product to have "no perceived latency," a slight transmission delay was apparent during a live demonstration with HP executives in London.

DreamWorks has 10 such rooms spread across its offices in California, England and Hong Kong, and is looking to set up similar sites in its new studios in Taiwan and India. The first test Halo room was up and running in March 2003.

Estimated to cost $550,000 each if implemented on a modest scale, Halo rooms are outside the reach of smaller businesses. However, the rooms are available under a 48-month payment scheme, in which companies fork out $30,000 per month. HP also offers payment plans for 36 months and 60 months.

According to HP, the network and service for each room will likely cost $18,000 per month, depending on local telecommunications charges in the various countries.

The company is exploring possibilities of offering Halo in varying room configurations and will soon provide support for connection between multiple Halo rooms. Currently, people can only communicate between two Halo sites.

HP has 13 Halo rooms set up across its offices worldwide, including Spain, Israel and Singapore. Videoconferences between its research and development teams in Singapore and Barcelona now frequently take place in the respective Halo rooms, said Ken Crangle, HP's general manager for Halo.

"We can now meet more often and for shorter times," he said. The company is expecting a 26 percent increase in the use of Halo rooms across HP in 2006, he added.

According to a study by Wainhouse Research released in October, enterprises spend an average 12 hours per month using traditional videoconferencing equipment. Among Halo customers, which currently include chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices and food and beverage company PepsiCo, this figure increases to 131 hours, Crangle said.

AMD has two Halo rooms in the United States, one in Austin, Texas, and one in Sunnyvale, Calif., and plans to expand the system to Europe and Asia, said Hector Ruiz, AMD's chief executive. "We've been able to cut down on executive travel, and we are able to have impromptu meetings with colleagues located miles away."

HP and DreamWorks share the revenue from the sale of Halo, which falls under HP's imaging and printing group.

Eileen Yu of ZDNet Asia reported from New York.

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