To begin, dim the lights.
Then, the walls of this 25th-floor office disappear. An eagle screeches into view and flies straight through the room and out the other side, disappearing behind a sun that rises and sets in a matter of seconds, plunging the room into starry night.
Then, the boss walks into the room on a bed of stars. “I want to use this morning’s meeting to talk about the future of our company.”
Then, the lights return, the walls return, and the weekly video conferencing sales meeting with the head office begins. It’s all possible if video conferencing is freed from traditional, rectangular screen technology.
‘Vanilla’ Video Conferencing
In little more than 20 years, video calling has evolved into a range of incarnations that let individuals, creative teams, and entire companies speak face-to-face across any distance that can come between people.
However, whether it’s personal one-on-one web calls, huddle room video conferencing, or immersive telepresence, one thing is consistent–the view of our peers is always through the prism of a rectangular window. That’s because most services offered today seek to create an experience that’s immersive by being unobtrusive.
For around $300,000 per room, Polycom and Cisco can set you up in a dedicated suite that blends HDTV, angled cameras, and precision sound that make it seem that, though they be separated by hundreds of miles, everyone involved in the call is sitting in the same white-walled room, sharing the same beige boardroom table. It’s truly immersive, but it doesn’t make special use of that immersion.
What if, instead of merely realistically recreating the boardroom, more than a quarter of a million dollars plunged staff into an inspiring, exciting, hyper-reality thanks to creative video conferencing?
Video Conferencing by Waterfall
Video conferencing relies on powerful codecs to record and encode audio and visual information and turn it into digital packets that are in turn unpacked and projected onto a screen at the other end. This means that once information goes digital it has the potential to be manipulated in as many ways as the human mind can comprehend.
So once your voice and image are captured–and you’re going to want a quality camera and microphone doing the catching nowadays–you can project them onto a wide range of surfaces. And that’s the key here–to start thinking of surfaces, rather than screens.
This type of thinking has already helped a British performance art group project a live internet stream of a waterfall onto a multistory building. It meant an international design team could turn the walls of a jet invisible. And it let Dr. Manhattan, of graphic novel Watchmen fame, rise from waters of London’s river Thames.
In fact, if your projector is capable of generating around 20 times the light of a standard set of car headlights, you can turn floorboards into a stage worthy of a Super Bowl halftime show. So what could you achieve in the boardroom?
Bendable, Inflatable Video
The examples above are essentially dependent on two processes–images projected onto a passive surface, or images displayed on pliable digital surfaces.
The former method sent rear-projected video careening off water molecules, creating a 3D dimensional image of Dr. Manhattan as the light struck the uneven surface. In the case of the disappearing aeroplane walls, external cameras simply project the sky onto the internal surface. Some interesting video installations have also been created by coupling this thinking with a few hardy balloons.
Projects like the creation of a multistory waterfall rely on bendable LED screens that can be shaped to fit the contours of any surface, or warp above and through open spaces to create new surfaces. This opens the door to any number of possibilities. If your office meeting room has walls, a table, perhaps even a roof, you could start holding video conversations amid any number of wonders.
A Boardroom with a View
While genuine holographic technology is still currently a sketch on a frustrated engineer’s notepad, a molded LED display could certainly create a more dynamic presence for any video conferencing speaker. The image could be captured on a contoured screen to convey depth and presence, or a coiled screen to allow the speaker to seemingly float, or an abstracted geometric screen to lend the image a little avant-garde dynamic, like a 3D Piet Mondrian painting.
Also, a central, transparent screen would allow for moving images to be projected into floating space, letting the discussion of new brand guidelines be accompanied by a parade of designs and logos. And the white walls of the boardroom could be turned to dramatic, large-scale presentations of sales, expenditure, or revenue over time through the use of multiple roof-mounted projectors.
Of course, this would all still be participated in via a video call in real time, but as long as there’s a good central video conferencing system placed strategically, the oohs and ahhs of the sales team will come through loud and clear.
Cost is still the sticking point when it comes to wide implementation of these techniques, as it is with immersive telepresence in general. However, just as the cost of an iPhone has dropped to around a sixth of its initial price over the past decade, so too will commercial uptake and production efficiencies eventually render creative video conferencing technologies affordable.
And when that happens it’ll just be a matter of imagination when it comes to deciding how exciting and dynamic a meeting or presentation could be.