What’s the Difference between Video Conferencing and Telepresence?

telepresence78495793Recently a colleague who works in the networking group said to me, “I am confused. People ask me about video conferencing and telepresence, and I am not sure I know the difference. Since you work in that area, can you explain it to me?”

That got me thinking as to what the right answer might be.

With the advent of video use in our everyday communications, a number of questions commonly surface. One of them is the question of terminology. What’s the difference between video conferencing and telepresence? What is meant by immersive technologies?

Frankly, there is no one single right answer. Rather, the answer changes over time, much like the technology changes over time. Marketing materials may use one term or the other, and there might not even be agreement between different vendors as to the meaning of these terms.

But, to give you some insight into the main areas of difference, let’s break this down to early video technology and then look at more recent developments.

Early video conferencing products strove to provide visual and audio communications between two or more endpoints or locations. In the case of a group of folks sitting around a meeting room table, often the camera was located at one end of the room and had to pan around to capture the current speaker. Some folks were closer to the camera, while others were further away.

Audio between speakers may have varied in volume and clarity, and there was no consistency between conference rooms and environment. Video resolutions varied and were mostly standard definition (SD) with varying degrees of user experience. Often the exchange seemed so clumsy and difficult to manage that people just gave up and resorted to audio-only conferences.

Telepresence systems solved many of those issues by going to the other extreme. They encompassed a very strict definition of the physical conference room setup and the network environment over which the video flowed. These rooms were costly to set up but gave the user the impression of being there, with the remote participants looking like they were sitting on the other side of the conference table in life-size format. These systems were high-definition (HD) systems that provided life-like images of all participants.

This is often referred to as immersive telepresence.

More recently, HD teleconferencing has come down to the personal level with the introduction of Cisco Jabber for Windows, powered by Cisco Unified Communications Manager.

Cisco Jabber is a softphone with wideband and high-fidelity audio, standards-based high-definition video (720p), and desk phone control. With the surge of mobile solutions, Cisco now provides Jabber clients for a variety of mobile devices.

To summarize, older video conferencing devices provided SD video resulting in lower-resolution, lower-quality video feed, while telepresence provides HD streams for crisp, clear video and a smooth, real-life presentation. Today, more and more endpoints and clients support HD video to provide truer-to-life experiences, whether you are in the conference room, in your office, or on the move.

And, with as quickly as technology changes, the answer to this question may change as well. Stay tuned.

Related Training
VTVS2 – Implementing Cisco TelePresence Video Solutions, Part 2
VIVND – Implementing Cisco Video Network Devices
UCM9VV – Cisco Unified Communications Manager 9.x for Voice and Video Deployments

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  1. kenneth Reply

    This is a highly informative article. It has shoown me the difference between the two. I used to think that they are one and the same thing until i read this article. Thanks a lot. In my Country, we usually say this as a BIG thank you, “7 Gbosas for you Boss…Gbosa..Gbosa..Gbosa Gbosa…Gbosa..Gbosa..Gbooooosaaaa!!!”

  2. Roman Perez Reply

    Telepresence is the natural evolution of videoconferenca, taking advantage of new underlying technologies and how to combine them to achieve a product with better results than if we added each separately, achieving incredibly superior experience.

  3. Den Reply

    Honestly this post confused me more than was before.
    For those who did understand could you nominate the characteristic of these 2 notions? In this article it seams that the author contradicts himself…

  4. Phillip Reply

    The difference is that Telepresence has an awesome music video named after it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQw32grJBK4&feature=share&list=PL03E477A1C2096B4A

  5. Larry Satterfield Reply

    The difference between Telepresence and videoconferencing is that Cisco’s immersive “TelePresence” product actually a) worked, b) provided an easy-to-use interface that even an executive could use, and c) focused on the quality of the experience rather than ubiquitous access.

    That all ended when Cisco wasted roughly $4B on the Tandberg acquisition, which “dumbed down” TelePresence to the point that I have to wonder “who” the guy sitting 17 feet down at the end of the long conference table actually is because I can’t tell any more now that his head is the size of a damn gum ball.

    People argue all of the time that no one cares about the quality of experience when you can get “good enough” experiences for far less money. I call BS on that, because if that was true, we would all trade in our luxury cars and everyone would be driving mopeds.

  6. Renee Reply

    The term “Personal Telepresence” goes back 20 years, circa 1994.
    See the abstract from 1994 below:

    Personal Telepresence: an interactive multimedia workstation
    Author(s): Mike Pihlman; Renee E. Farrell

    “Personal Telepresence is an interactive multimedia tool that allows individuals or groups to, affordably, meet with remotely located individuals or groups–from their desktop–as if they were all in the same location. A Personal Telepresence workstation would include telephony, computer, desktop videoconferencing, groupware, and graphics capability on a single platform. The user interface presented will allow natural, face-to-face interaction between all those involved in `virtual’ meeting, classroom, office or manufacturing problem solving sessions. Files could be opened and placed on a virtual `conference table’ where changes could be made interactively by any or all the `meeting’ participants. `Copies’ of the files can be made, `stapled’ together, and given to each of the attendees. The desktop would include a `whiteboard’ for brainstorming sessions and a `projector screen’ to display movies, video mail, and/or the results of a simulation program. This paper discusses desktop collaboration needs and the Personal Telepresence project at LLNL.”

  7. Kanai Adhikary Reply

    Thank you for the information. Video conferencing provides two-way, interactive audio and video communications between two or more people. Telepresence solutions use video and audio conferencing components as well to create a two-way immersive communications experience that simulates an in-person, interactive encounter. For video conferencing, you may use tools like webex, R-HUB HD video conferencing servers, gomeetnow, gotomeeting etc.