Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I love the convenience of my screens! My office is on the bottom of our 4 level home, and it's a 20 second climb to get to the lounge or front door. So I'm extending my reach through cameras and screens.

At the moment I have a screen open (using the first of 4 outdoor security cameras to come), showing the road outside my office. I have motion sensor fields so that when a car drives down the road it is recorded to my hard drive, and I can play it back anytime.

I used it yesterday to see whether a courier had come up the road to drop off an expected delivery at my front door. They had (at 13.19.05!) - so I went up to collect it - the SeeEye-2-Eye eye level viewing device I talked about a few posts back. More about that in a later post. The delivery I was hoping for was a dome camera for the front door which I will connect to my security screen. That came later in the afternoon and I'm testing it now.

On another dedicated 15" tv screen I'm watching one of my Roombas vacuuming our lounge 3 levels up. I have the sound on so I can hear when the job is done. The wireless camera - one of four around the house - shows the room with incredible detail. In this photo it's easy to see how I've turned over a corner of the rug for the Roomba to do underneath, but on other occasions I can also see if our cat lying under the coffee table has her eyes open or not.

So far I have 8 working screens in my office connected round the house, gradually building up a complete surveillance. It's a great life, this video life!

Monday, January 07, 2008

portable videoconferencing device

If you have a spare US$700, Creative will sell you a portable, wireless videoconferencing unit (picture from here):

This was first announced in December 2007 on the enGadget blog, and officially at CES 2008 last Saturday.

According to the enGadget website: "the portable video conferencing device promises that "you can join a board meeting in Geneva, a one-on-one in Africa, and your child's birthday party in California while you're stuck in the airport in Australia."

No launch date yet for the Creative inPerson Video Conferencing device.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

where is videoconferencing heading in the future?

The convenience of videoconferencing is not that hard to promote. The advantages - like those shown in this simple but cute ad, and many more like it - are pretty ho-hum by now:

Of course we know that videoconferencing replaces traveling and all its inconveniences. Yet we still do it. Yes, it's great to talk to someone from halfway round the world in an instant. But phone was the same 50 years ago.

So if it's all a little commonplace and predictable, what's the future of videoconferencing in 2008 and 5 years beyond?

I don’t think much will improve until a 'next big thing' like full color holography emerges. And hopefully not like this 1980's Star Wars version:

In the meantime I'm predicting we'll be making smaller increments of change:

- Video call quality will improve. That's a given. With all the emphasis presently put on videoconferencing as a foreign medium (not as easy to use as the phone, and 50% of the population so far not wanting it), there's not many places to go except stepping up the quality. Even so, improving quality will attract people like me, but the masses won't notice.

- The desktop will reign because it's convenient and cheap. Think how hard it is for the average person to set up a dedicated videoconferencing room with proper lighting and sound. Even though I'm a stickler for quality, I'm still very satisfied with my setup... natural window light, my Polycom Communicator for the best sound outside a head mic, and the Skype High Quality video. It will take a big quality jump to get an improvement on that.

- High definition will get better, but won't help much. Last year I went to a LifeSize demo in my city because I was curious to find out the advantages, if any, of true high definition. I wasn't that impressed. It turned out exactly as I expected. The 42" flat screen on the wall still contained a "tv announcer," and the conversation was a little disembodied as a result of a lack of high quality audio. That's the problem... HiDef videoconferencing today still looks like we're interacting with a better quality tv. The personal interaction is lost - a step removed from reality - which is the holy grail of videoconferencing.

Here's another LifeSize ad which tries to bridge this reality gap, and I think does it quite well:

- Interfaces will improve. I hope so. The Skype window, similar in design to SightSee, is very unattractive. Like Google and Amazon, it is in that state because it's simple. But simple is not always best because these interfaces are not intuitive and it's still hard to use. I hope they improve it somehow.

- Multitasking will get better. Split screens for video and data will become more important. Imagine talking with a relative and showing a photo of your family trip to them in another window. Or bringing up a website on the data window while you're talking about a product. It's done now, but not easily. This futuristic Apple ad on videoconferencing shows how well that integration (around 6:40) could be:

Thursday, January 03, 2008

simplification isn't easy

Why is everything about computing so complicated? Why can't the engineer geeks stay inside the box and out of the GUI designer's way?

Geeks talk in a strange language that takes years to acquire. I daren't mention words like download and upload to anyone new to computers - because those expressions just don't make sense to them.

Why don't we call it the more logical IN and OUT instead?


(And if you didn't know what the confusing acronym 'GUI' stands for, google it).

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

skype video auto-answer

Skype's auto-answer is an ideal way to make the reply process easy for the receiving party. All they need to do is sit at their computer when it rings and wait for the video window to open.

To set Skype to auto-answer in video, use the Skype program menu:

Tick the box "Automatically answer incoming calls" and click "Save."

Your receiving party will still have to mouse-click the icon in the video picture to enlarge the live video if they want a bigger view.

I will be experimenting later with Macro Express to see if it will open a large window automatically.

nicholas negroponte's video vision

In his 1995 book "Being Digital," the then director of MIT's Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte, talked about a telepresence project he was involved in (p121).

His idea was to project an exactly registered video of the subject onto the back of a translucent, life-size mask of their face. When the video ran, the impression of reality was impressive.

Could this be the future - or at least until holography catches up with videoconferencing?

Here's a quick graphic I whipped up to show how it works, with thanks to Rutgers for the animation faces: