The Iron Man-Style Tech of Oblong Mezzanine Makes Video Calling More Stylish, Not More Functional

The Oblong Mezzanine is transforming video calling.

Visual art succeeds when the impact of its observable element matches the impact of the idea behind it.

Style and substance, in other words. Too little substance, and it becomes disposable. The wrong style, and it becomes ineffective.

When you cross the barrier from visual art into visual technology, the same applies. Few technologies must strike this balance more than video conferencing. It’s a uniquely visual form of communication, where its style really is its substance.

Just something to bear in mind as one of the industry’s most stylish visual platforms opens itself up to WebRTC video calling.

Making Movie Fiction into Business Fact

Few visual communications technologies can match the mythology of Oblong Industries’ Mezzanine platform.

The company and its tech are the brain-child of former MIT luminary John Underkoffler, better known as the inspiration and guiding force for the futuristic computer interfaces that dominate Hollywood sci-fi hits Minority Report and Iron Man.

Under his watch, Oblong has produced real-world adaptations of the gesture-driven computer interfaces that Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. so eloquently conducted on screen.

The resulting Mezzanine interface is a series of wall-mounted, interconnected video screens that are navigated by a hand-held wand. Each can handle just about any form of data and multimedia display, and visuals can be torn from one and placed on another with ease.

It’s not quite so handsy as the Hollywood visions, but collaborators in these $150,000 rooms have access to a display of unparalleled instant glide, zoom, stretch, rotate, and switch-screen beauty.

It is undeniably stylish, and it has won the approval of some big industry watchdogs. It’s also soon to be available for browser-based video calling.

Video Calling With a Magic Wand

Oblong announced late last year that it had added WebRTC video calling to its list of Mezzanine features. The new Mezz-in version will allow video callers to join a virtual meeting through their browser, without the need for software or codec downloads.

Remote users will be able to alter and control the displays that adorn the walls of a meeting room, and make changes to display and other settings using gestures.

Mezz-in will also work across smartphones and tablets, adding BYOD flexibility.

While it’s great that browser-based callers are now able to be impressed by the Oblong’s magic wand controls, they’ll of course still have to be digitally invited into one of the company’s  high-tech, high-cost rooms for the privilege.

And that’s when you start asking whether a stylish presentation of data that could be shared through conventional video conferencing technology is really worth the price?

Mr. Underkoffler himself has conceded that the real magic in the Oblong product isn’t so much the wand control, but the ability to integrate and manipulate data across several screens.

That trick, even more so than the smooth way it’s achieved, is what you’re really paying for. And we’re not sure that either could be considered virtual meeting necessities.

What’s the Cost of a Good Impression?

Of course Mezzanine is enterprise-level tech, intended for high rollers who want to impress clients, investors, partners, and colleagues at every chance they get.

Which is fair enough. But for the video conferencing market, and adding browser-based calling is a concession to that use, there are far more impressive and functional suites available once money is no longer top priority.

You could get an immersive, telepresence setup with a series of HD screens, state-of-the-art voice-seeking microphones, and 4K cameras that automatically search out and focus on whoever’s talking while giving a 360 degree view of the room. You could even get a virtual director that pieces together your live conversation for a more natural flow.

Sure, you’d have to use a mouse or some other archaic device to switch between slides and multimedia shared screens, but you’d have a system more focused on the humans in the virtual room than the data.

In such a case, the “stylish” portion of the style and substance balance is dedicated to depicting people and letting their conversation move without glitch. The substance is the same, it’s just accessed differently.

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