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What’s the Difference between Video Conferencing and Telepresence?

March 18, 2014
Berni Gardiner

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