Immersive video collaboration is around the corner

Next-generation video conferencing collaboration promises to revolutionize remote working—again.

realsense lead image
Credit: Intel

Here’s a question for you: Why isn’t video conferencing bigger? I don’t know about you, but the webinars and so on that I’m invited to consist of audio- and whiteboard-only.

It appears to me that the hype of the on-board camera promising to bring remote co-workers together hasn’t really worked out—we’re still picking up the phone and stabbing away at messaging. Even my Skype calls tend to be audio-only.

Part of the reason might be that despite the conveyed image, we still feel distanced—so what’s the point of the extra effort? Video chat feels remote, and even stunted.

Well that all might be about to change if two companies products are accepted by enterprise. Both want to bring a kind of immersive, virtual experience to the interaction.

Virtual reality

AltspaceVR is a social platform for virtual reality that wants to get users to meet in virtual spaces.

The company has said that its product will allow for a more intimate connection—you’ll feel like you’re emotionally connected in the same way that you do when you’re in a room full of people. It will be a shared experience.

Essentially, the way it works is that the participating users view a virtual space through VR goggles, or headset as the industry like to call them. Their avatar interacts with their correspondents’ avatar in the space.

For example, a nod of the head, or other nuance like waving and glancing is replicated.

A common screen, in the virtual space displays a whiteboard, or other web media, and the avatars can talk about it and interact with each other over the media.

It’s a bit like a video conference or webinar, except the multiple parties appear to be in the same room, through the use of virtual reality.

3D camera

Chicago-based Personify, an alternative to AltspaceVR, uses Intel RealSense 3D cameras, or equivalent.

RealSense is a three-dimensional video technology that should give you the ability to understand depth, electronically. RealSense can also be used for 3D scanning and printing, and for games.

In the case of Personify conferencing, the idea is that by “removing your background and immersing you into your desktop,” you get a better video experience. Removing background is something 3D cameras can do.

Personify should thus “transfer you to a shared virtual space where you can interact with friends, family and colleagues like you're sitting across the table from them,” the website says.

Much like with AltspaceVR, at the same time you can experience the digital content together. Personify uses the tagline: “video conversation, with a hint of teleportation.”

Future of work

The gear looks promising.

“I am convinced that the future of remote work—that is, the future of most work—is devices few people have been privileged to try, but won’t want to abandon once they do,” writes Christopher Mims in the Wall Street Journal.

Mims, who has tried both Personify and AltspaceVR, and one other, a conference room solution by Oblong Industries, says that he hadn’t before noticed that calls, chat and video conferencing emphasizes the distance between himself and a conversation partner.

With Personify “each of you can point to content, and you can actually see what you’re working on, rather than having to flip back and forth between a video call and another window,” Mims says of his trial.

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