HP's Halo: Another twist on telepresence
by Josh Bernoff
Soon after we reviewed Cisco's Telepresence solution, we heard from HP, which has a competing product called Halo. Would we review theirs as well?
Sure. Since Charlene and I need to collaborate as frequently as possible, in any form possible, we were delighted to try it out.
The first thing you need to know is this: both HP and Cisco make it possible to have a very realistic meeting at a distance. As we said in our original review, the sensation is of actually meeting with people. Again, in this meeting, we could see each other's facial expressions, interrupt each other, and laugh at each other's jokes (or not). In this picture you see Charlene's view from Palo Alto. The woman on the right is Jacque Murphy, our editor from HBS Press, who did not hurt her shoulder twisting our arms about Groundswell, regardless of what you may have heard. I wear the Hawaiian shirt as a sort of test pattern for telepresence -- a lesser system would doubtless crash in the face of these colors, but Halo did great.
Compared to Cisco's Telepresence, Halo is just as good. The differences were marginal. Cisco's screens are slightly higher resolution, and we found the Halo's reproduction of sound to be just a tad behind Cisco's. Neither of these elements affected the illusion of having a real meeting.
Halo also has two important benefits not available elsewhere. It currently supports multipoint meetings -- earlier in our session I was looking at Charlene on the center screen and a third location on the right screen. To accommodate this you can zoom out, which allows you to see more people at once but spoils the illusion a little bit. Still, the ability to meet with people in multiple locations at once is an important advantage.
Second, HP has added an "object camera" mounted in the ceiling. In the picture shown here you can see Charlene looking at my mobile phone, which is shown above our faces. During the meeting, we used this to look at a piece of paper on which Jacque had printed out her marketing plan for the book. The ability to zoom in close and observe objects -- prototypes, documents, etc. -- is a great addition. Imagine being at Pepsi and seeing the Beijing office's new can designs while sitting in New York. (Notice that the auxiliary screen is above the people rather than below as with Cisco. You can also use this screen for sharing what's visible on your PC. I like it better above.)
This is not cheap. The full version costs $399,000 and there is a "cheaper" $329,000 version. It's also $18,000 a month for the connection. But unlike Cisco, HP provides a connection directly to a network that is designed specifically for Halo. (Cisco expects you to provide your own net connection.) I'm not enough of a network geek to know how much difference this will make, but I can tell you this: if the telepresence experience degrades, it's worthless. It's the illusion of being there that makes it worthwhile.
Interestingly, now that HP has 32 Halo studios up and running in its own organization, some of them are booked for 200 hours a month. Clearly people find this useful. And it does save on air travel.
The real future will come when this is a standard format and studios anywhere, from Cisco, HP, or anybody else, can connect with anyone else on any system. Bring the price down, and there could be one in every Kinko's. Internal collaboration is great. Worldwide communication is better. Anyone want to tell me how long that will take to get here?