Video conferencing gets cheaper, nastier easier

Poor showing precipitates price cuts

globalisation

HP has slashed the entry price for its top-end video conferencing platform as it tries to convince businesses that it is no longer an unaffordable luxury.

The big hardware vendors - most noticeably Cisco, HP and Polycom - have been trying to flog pricey systems which they call telepresence - high-end purpose-built videoconferencing rooms with 65-inch plasma screens, large enough to display lifesize images of meeting participants.

But despite having some of the largest marketing budgets on the planet, these vendors have only managed to sell to 225 customers worldwide, according to analyst firm Ovum.

The big problem has been the price - HP launched its Halo Collaboration Studio with a hefty $550,000 tag, and Cisco still charges $300,000. Those figures are per site, and you've gotta have two to have a conversation.

HP yesterday made the first move to make telepresence more affordable, introducing a scaled-down product at a dramatic discount.

Unlike the initial product which requires a fitted-out room dedicated to the purpose, Halo Collaboration Center is small enough to fit into an executive's office. It will ship for a relative snip at $120,000.

Ken Crangle, general manager for HP's telepresence offerings, said the product was developed to bolster sales. "It was originally designed for larger teams," he said, "but we are seeing people using it more for one on one, two on one meetings."

HP's also inked a deal to get telepresence into many of the Marriott chain of hotels, of which there are more than 70 in the UK.

The theory is that travelling business people will be able to have proper face-to-face meetings on a pay per use basis in the major cities around the world without having to find their way to their nearest company office.

Though it has been slow to take off, there are signs large businesses might eventually warm to telepresence. Astra Zeneca, Dow Chemical and Toshiba have recently signed deals with HP. ®

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