Vidyo launches low-cost HD video chat for up to 20 people at once

Vidyo is seeking to disrupt the market for “telepresence” systems that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It will do so with the launch of Vidyo Panorama, a video conferencing system that delivers high-speed, high-definition video calls for nine people now and up to 20 people at a time in the future.

The system could help disrupt existing telepresence rooms that make it seem like you’re in the same room with the person you’re talking to. Companies have bought those systems in order to save on the costs, hassles and risks that come with airline travel.

Ofer Shapiro, chief executive of Hackensack, N.J.-based Vidyo, said during a video conference interview that the company can provide the telepresence solution at about 10 percent of the cost of current telepresence solutions from rivals such as Cisco. Shapiro showed how nine people could use the system at once with crystal clear voice and picture quality. The video runs at 60 frames per second in the 1080p HD video format.

And users can log into a wide variety of platforms, including 1080p 60 frames per second multi-screen telepresence rooms, video conferencing rooms, desktops, iOS and Android-based smartphones and tablets, (including the iPhone, iPad 2, Xoom, Galaxy, Nexus S and others).

Shapiro said the support for more platforms allows enterprises to deal with the communications needs of a distributed and mobile workforce that is increasingly common in corporate America.

Vidyo Panorama works with off-the-shelf hardware and allows users to create their own applications on top of the video conferencing system. The upfront investment is 90 percent lower than the usual telepresence system and ongoing expenses are also dramatically lower, Shapiro said. At the same time, the system offers much better quality and multi-person connectivity than low-cost alternatives such as Skype. The system works better than others because, rather than transcode video from one form to another, Vidyo adapts to the video format at hand.

Shapiro noted that high-end systems have their own problems, like when the number of remote cameras exceeds the number of screens. If someone coughs, they may disappear from the screen.

The system works with nine people at HD quality now and will work with 20 screens in the future. The solution consists of a primary control unit for the room, a decoder per screen, an executive tablet, an off-the-shelf high-definition camera and an audio system.

Vidyo says it can lower costs because its solution uses less bandwidth than other systems, delivering HD video at 500 kilobits per second per screen. The company foresees customers using it for supply chain management, command centers for disaster recovery or military uses, patient monitoring, distance learning, financial services apps and others.

The cost ranges from under $40,000 for four screens at 720p HD quality and 60 frames per second. And it goes up to $60,000 for nine screens at 1080p quality and 60 frames per second. The cost is around $6,000 per screen for nine screens and $4,500 per screen for 20 screens. The systems will be in beta tests with customers in August and will debut in the fourth quarter. Shapiro says the cost comes out to around 2 cents per minute compared to $6 per minute with other systems.

The company was founded in 2005 and has 150 employees. It has raised $75 million in venture funding from SevinRosen, Rho Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Star Ventures and Four Rivers. Shapiro said the company has eight granted patents and 28 pending. Vidyo’s partners include Google, Hewlett-Packard, Teliris, and Ricoh. Rivals include Microsoft-Skype and Cisco.

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