Polycom, IBM to Demo Consumer Video Conferencing at CES

Polycom and IBM are teaming up to showcase a prototype home high-definition video conferencing product at CES. Video conferencing and telepresence products are seeing growing adoption in the business sector as a way of cutting travel expenses. Now vendors such as Polycom and Cisco Systems are looking to move their technology into the home, where they will compete with the likes of Skype.

Polycom will be teaming up with IBM at the Consumer Electronics Show to demonstrate a high-definition video conferencing system aimed for the home.

Video conferencing and immersive telepresence technology is becoming increasingly popular in the corporate world as businesses look for ways to trim expenses, including travel costs.

That arena is getting increasingly competitive, as illustrated by Cisco Systems' intended $3.4 billion acquisition of rival Tandberg and Logitech's $405 million purchase of LifeSize Communications. Those competitors are now looking at the consumer sector. Along with Polycom's plans, Cisco reportedly intends to roll out a consumer version of its TelePresence offering in 2010. Both would face heavy competition from Skype.

Jeff Rodman, Polycom co-founder and CTO, said what the company will be showing at CES, which runs Jan. 7 to 10 in Las Vegas, is a prototype of a product that Polycom is working on.

At CES, IBM will have a home situation set up to demonstrate its smarter home tools and cloud management capabilities for such consumer technologies as video on demand, video streaming and gaming, Rodman said in an interview. Polycom officials saw this as an opportunity to include consumer-focused video conferencing in the demonstrations.

Rodman said there is growing interest in bringing video conferencing and telepresence technology into the home. As employees experience the benefits of such capabilities in their work environments, they begin to see how they can benefit from them at home, he said. And once consumers get a taste of the technology, they usually are anxious to have it in their homes.

"The whole intersection between the home space and the business space is very interesting to us, both as a company and as individuals [who work in an office]," Rodman said.

Cost and reliability are key in bringing video conferencing into the home, he said. The growth in affordable, high-performance HD television screens and the relatively low cost of technology are helping make it a reality. A reliable connection, ease of use and support are areas that IBM can help address, he said.

The system has to be simple enough "so that a 4-year-old girl can use it to dial a friend," Rodman said.

Polycom is not talking about specifics for any future products-no details are being released on planned names, products or release dates, he said. However, it is an area that Polycom is serious about, according to Rodman.

So are other companies. Online auction pioneer eBay in November 2009 sold 70 percent of Skype to an investor group that includes Silver Lake, Joltid and affiliated parties, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Andreessen Horowitz, for $2.75 million.

In addition, Skype announced Jan. 5 that it is working with LG and Panasonic on Skype-enabled HDTVs that will launch in the middle of the year, enabling the company's technology to make the jump from PCs to high-definition television sets.

Cisco in December used the holidays to show how its TelePresence product can be used by consumers. Cisco ran its Christmas Connections contest to unite three elderly sisters-two in Australia and one in Virginia-and their families via TelePresence for a holiday dinner.