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Polycom, Fighting Cisco, Adds To Telepresence Line

Video conference technology provider Polycom adds to its lineup of HD  telepresence systems in a battle for dominance against Cisco Systems, especially in the wake of Cisco's acquisition of Tandberg. Polycom is introducing the OTX 300 Immersive Telepresence product. Telepresence provides a high-end video that aims to duplicate the experience of being in the same room for participants in separate locations. Telepresence systems require dedicated--and expensive--equipment and specially constructed studios.

The OTX system incorporates the H.264 High Profile video standard, which transmits HD video signals using almost half the bandwidth of other standards. An HDTV image of 1080p (a measure of the frame rate), which is the current standard for HDTV broadcasting, can be delivered at 1.024Mbps. That rate doubles for systems using H.264 without High Profile. An image of 480p, used for standard TV before the switchover to digital in the U.S. last year, uses only 128Kbps of bandwidth with High Profile, again half that of H.264 alone.

The OTX, which is to ship in the third quarter, follows the Polycom Fully Immersive Telepresence RPX system, which is already available. It's billed as a "room within a room" where furnishings, walls, ceilings and other decor are exactly the same, giving the impression of one room. The OTX is a more scaled-down modular design. Polycom also offers a Customized Immersive Telepresence ATX system that lets integrators build customized studios.

Polycom is the first video conference provider offering systems with the H.264 High Profile standard, though Tandberg is expected to launch its own H.264 High Profile-based systems before the end of the year. Tandberg was acquired by Cisco Systems for $3.3 billion. Polycom and Tandberg (before the Cisco acquisition), together controlled 70 to 75 percent of the global video conferencing market in 2009, says Andrew Davis, a partner in Wainhouse Research. Polycom is ahead on unit sales (38 percent to 31 percent), while Tandberg leads by revenue (44 percent versus 33 percent).

As Tandberg matches Polycom with low-bandwidth systems, the market for such technology will "absolutely" grow, according to Davis. He sees growth potential in geographic markets where high-performance bandwidth is in short supply and, thus, expensive. He predicts that products incorporating standards that reduce bandwidth requirements will stimulate the telepresence market.