When animators at DreamWorks in southern California and England wanted to collaborate on elements of Shrek 3, they didn’t jump into a plane or dial up a traditional phone or video conference with a tiny Web cam.
Instead, they used a “Halo suite”, a cutting-edge conference room equipped with high-definition TVs, studio-grade cameras and stereo surround sound. The effect: video and audio conferences that are more lifelike, keeping people more engaged and productive.
The ability to hold meetings with people in different cities and countries has evolved far beyond people huddled over a speaker phone. Teleconferencing is a $6 billion (Rs24,600 crore) global industry, according to Frost and Sullivan, a California-based business research and consulting firm.
While high fuel prices and a need to reduce corporate expenditures are often contributors to the industry’s growth, the wide availability of broadband connections has made it easier and less expensive to meet with co-workers or clients miles and oceans away.
Traditional telephone conferences still make up the largest portion of the industry. InterCall, a Chicago-based company, is a leading provider of conference calls, and has partnered with Denver-based IAL Services Inc. to offer real-time interpretation of calls in up to seven languages.
“Before this, calls were done in English and then re-recorded and broadcast over the Internet (in other languages),” said IAL managing partner Daniel Watson.
Web conferencing—which combines audio calls and the presentation of materials such as PowerPoint slides over the Internet—is the fastest growing sector of the conferencing industry. “We think people are using the web conference tools to build better, more engaging meetings,” said Dan King, president of ReadyTalk, a Denver-based web conferencing company. King said that ReadyTalk revenues from Web conferences are up 70% so far this year, compared with the same period in 2006. Revenues from audio conferences are up 45%, by comparison.
DreamWorks was “coming up with animated film clips that go around the world from lab to lab”, said Ray Siuta, HP’s Halo marketing manager. “They wanted to see people’s reaction to the characters in real time, not three to five seconds later.”
HP’s Halo system is part of the “telepresence” sector of conferencing. HP has 29 Halo rooms throughout its offices worldwide and markets the systems to Fortune 500 companies. Entry level Halo suites start at $329,000, and monthly service charges from HP can reach up to $18,000.