Last week I got a chance to test drive HALO, Hewlett Packard’s super high-end telepresence application. And all I can say is …. Oooooh, I want one. In fact, I want everyone to have one.
Of course, that’s pretty impractical. HALO is, in essence, an extraordinarily expensive television studio cum virtual private network, and I can only imagine the cost of building one of them is in the low seven figures. For now, only large enterprises with serious budgets can afford to install such a system.
But man, after you use it, you really, really want to use it again.
I was invite to a HALO meeting by VJ Joshi, the fellow who runs HP’s Imaging and Printing Group (IPG), and HALO is one of VJ’s many products. IPG is best known for its printing business, but VJ has a larger vision for printing as a platform, and he wanted to bounce it around with me. (HP is a marketing partner of my company FM. Am I guilty of writing glowingly of a partner’s products? Yes, but I only do that when, in fact, it’s worthy.) VJ is also on the board of Yahoo, so I knew we’d not run out of things to talk about.
I came unsure what to expect – I’ve done video conferences before, and I was worried that all the usual glitches – latency, crappy video quality, poor audio – would make it hard to really connect. And I wanted to connect with VJ, I had heard a lot about him, and I was eager to pick his brain.
All that fell away when I walked into the rectangular HALO meeting room. The room was paneled in soft, light brown fabric, and dominating its left side was a board room table of sorts – well, half of a board room table, really, an arc of sorts from the stem to the stern of the room. On the wall to my left as I walked in were three 42+inch HD monitors, arranged at table level. Above them was a fourth screen, the same size.
And it was looking at the image on those screens where the mindbender came in: sitting at the table on the “other half” of the room were four people from Hewlett Packard. They looked jarringly real – but in fact, they were sitting in three different locations. They smiled and said hello when I entered, and I got this eerie feeling that I had triggered a family of Disneyland-esque automatons – they weren’t reacting to me, were they? Maybe I triggered some kind of response system a la Haunted Mansion, where the ghost starts speaking to you as you pass by?
But nope, these were the folks assembled from various HP locations around the country, ready to meet with me. VJ sat in the middle, in HP’s Fort Collins offices. Others were piped in from New York and Vancouver (I was in HP’s Palo Alto offices). But as I viewed them, they were all sitting across the table, as if we were all in the same room. It was, as I’ve said before, really cool.
VJ gave me a brief tour of HALO’s features – the fourth screen at the top allows you to manage the experience, share computer screens, and even share images of physical objects (a square light appears on the table next to you, and anything you put in the light can be seen by everyone else). By the time he had finished giving me the nickel tour, I had quite forgotten we were not in the same room. Our subsequent conversation was as nuanced and, well, as human as most meetings I’ve had face to face. The sound was superb, there was absolutely no latency, and the system adjusts for eye contact – people know when you are looking at them, allowing for the full gestural language of conversation to flourish.
After experiencing HALO, I asked VJ if he thought it was practical to get one of these into every Kinko’s in the world. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say “Why not?” I’m sure that day is a ways off, and because of that, I feel like a got a test ride of the future. Telepresence for me was some kind of Jetsonian fantasy, a silly, far off concept that I understood intellectually, but discounted entirely because it struck me as unrealistic and impractical. But after experiencing it first hand, it strikes me as the kind of impractical idea – like the telephone or the automobile – that will end up changing the world someday.
Of note: Cisco has a similar product in the market, recently featured on Fox’s 24 (see here for more, and Charlene Li’s site has a write up of it here).
8 thoughts on “HP’s HALO: Now This Is Telepresence”
“…it strikes me as the kind of impractical idea – like the telephone or the automobile – that will end up changing the world someday.”
Complete agree, John (I’ve experienced both Halo and TP) – it is the start of distance independent interaction – interactions in which distance between participants is no longer a critical variable. That’s BIG.
Hp is not the first to develop such a system. I have seen demos by Polycom of the exact same setup and real life looking screens (also intended for large corporations). It is very cool but its not new.
Charlene mentioned that physical interactions (i.e. the hug she’d usually have witn her friend before a discussion) were out of the question. However, people will still try, and get very creative about it, too.
In college, I attended a half-hour talk where they discussed a similar kind of room. Their design (this was 2002) involved two square rooms, split by the diagonal, and you can only be in one half of the room. Via a similar setup of cameras and screens filling the diagonal wall, it seems as though you’re in a square room, even though you can only move in half of it. AND, you see the other people, life-size.
In fact, they said that when people started really getting comfortable with it, it was rather common for participants to walk up to the screen from either “side”, and then … shake hands. Not in any physical sense, but to anyone watching, as close to it as you can get.
Funny thing … I don’t see any HP or HALO logos in those pictures. I’m a fan of 24 and have been impressed by seeing the Cisco Telepresense setup, but even moreso amused that the Cicsco logo is always seen at least once or twice whenever they use the setup. Product placement, after all.
It does look amazing, but I bet you are right about the low seven figures number. I have been using iChat video (built in to every new Mac) almost every day for the past few months and it works amazingly well. If the two Macs iChatting are both Intel Core 2 Duos, the quality is outstanding. In fact, my colleague that I iChat with even mistakenly asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee after we had been online together for a few hours. It was a good laugh.
Apple’s Leopard screen sharing feature with the new iChat (link below) will be very useful when it is released in October. And of course, it is free with every Mac and free to use for hours at a time. I only hope all of these emerging technologies bring the days of hour long commutes to an end.
I recently did a story for CNET TV on the Halo. I think they’re on the right track…can’t wait for the cost to come down.
The (very large) company that I work for has one of these systems. It’s reserved for execs only, and it was purchased to save on travel costs and to allow execs to be home more often. I hear that it’s very nice.
sub perceptual latency in lipsync and voice causes people to trust each other less, which kills a lot of video conferencing see book “the media equation”. That being said, I have used the Halo system as a guest of HP’s a few times in the last few weeks. It delivers the goods, totally worth every penny. I hope they build out the network fast. I think HP should get all of their corporate partners o try it an start offering a network ASAP. great stuff.