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Summary:

Ready for the future? Skype wants to bring 3D calls to the masses, but is patiently waiting for technology to catch up.

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There are few things that really capture the imagination as future-tech, and one of them is 3D communications. The ability to be in two places at once, with the aid of a 3D projection, evokes images from Star Wars but has remained largely out of reach. Now, Skype is ready to make it happen, according to a BBC report.

Microsoft corporate vice-president for Skype Mark Gillett told BBC News that his division is working on 3D technology for its video calls, although the technology itself is years away from mainstream implementation. The news comes as the product celebrates its 10th anniversary, just two years after its acquisition by Microsoft.

The admission validates speculation that bubbled up when Skype posted a job on the Microsoft careers page in April, which explained, “In the short term, we are developing the hardware and software necessary to have a realistic physical “body-double” or proxy in a remote meeting – one that gives the remote worker a true seat at the table, the ability to look around the room, turn to a colleague and have a side conversation.”

This focus could be on a low-cost answer to 3D corporate communications, which would put Skype in competition with Cisco’s telepresence technology, which has been pulled from the living room but remains a pricey option for corporate conference rooms. That feature has an opportunity to skyrocket Skype’s presence in the corporate world — if only it were easy to execute.

From a technology perspective, there’s a long way to go before your manager will be able to have a fully projected 3D image to interact with clients around the world. While advances have been made in 3D projection, at the hands of smart TVs and and 3D monitors, there’s a lot to work out before a portable 3D capture system is ready for public use. As it stands now, 3D images require a carefully coordinated rig of multiple cameras to accurately capture an image. Add to that the immediacy and on-the-fly nature of live chat, the technology is just too unrefined for use in the near future.

In the meantime, Skype remains focused on boosting call quality — particularly providing 1080p support to all calls, including those made over mobile. While it’s not as flashy as 3D, sharper calls would be a welcome and realistic step in the world of fuzzy, temperamental video chat.

  1. We’ve done this kind of 3D video conferencing functionality 2 years ago, it was multi-party enabled already. There is capturing devices like Minoru (it’s quality is pretty poor though), we’ve even created our own 3D camera based on a couple Logitech C910 webcams, there are many mobile devices with 3D cams already, so capturing it’s definitely not a bottleneck here.

    What we’ve learned about such solutions trying to put them into B2B market, is that glasses kills all the videoconferencing experience, there is no chances for glasses, believe me. So we’ve tried to use autostereoscopic screens instead, and it shortly become clear for us that there is no PCs on a market yet which could transcode 2x 3D streams into 16x autostereoscopic streams in real-time for resolutions higher than 320p. This resolution is useless for business video conferences like glasses.

    So the problem nowadays is connected with displaying devices. But there are many good signs like Philips doing TVs which could transcode 2x3D streams automatically with good 1080p resolution, there are very nice algorithms from 3rd party developers like YUVSoft, and of course PCs get stronger and more powerful.

    If you have questions about 3D video conferencing feel free to comment below. Thanks. Lev, TrueConf.

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    1. Victor Valasiadis Thursday, September 19, 2013

      Hello Lev, my name is Victor Valasiadis, I come from Greece. I own a minoru 3d webcam. Do you know if I can use the 3d camera through Skype? Is it possible? I already use it as a 2d web camera through Skype. Thanks
      Victor

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  2. “As it stands now, 3D images require a carefully coordinated rig of multiple cameras to accurately capture an image” This is quite incorrect. There are many, many consumer end 3D camcorders available today.

    I actually own five of them, three of which could easily be adapted to work with an eventual 3D communication service.

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