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LifeSize – Video-Conferencing in HiDef

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Life Size CameraSteve Jobs earlier this year had declared that 2005 is going to be the year of HD. And he was not talking about just macs either. From Alias torrents to televisions to DVD players, everything is going hi-def. Even the lowly video conferencing hardware. I recently had a chance to meet with LifeSize, an Austin-base company that is a living proof of the “Insta-Company” model. Using off the shelf components, and adding some magical software sauce, these guys have worked out a way to stream HD signals over a one megabit per second connection. I think these are the types of applications which are going to push the demand for broadband. On the flipside with bandwidth more easily available, I believe that we are going to see a sharp increase in usage of apps like video conferencing that have been stuck in second gear.

The products are pretty nice looking too – which can be explained! Many engineers are former Mac employees, and both CEO and CTO walked in with PowerBooks. Anyway I found the products very elegant and properly designed. Check out that phone – it will get a smile from Mr. Spock as well! They work with older systems, and the best part is that you can schedule the conference calls right from Outlook. Cool! So where is Apple Mail and iCal support?

Life Size PhoneI wondered why not use the same compression technology and sell it to the bells, for they need a way to compress HD signals and send a couple of streams down a pipe that is not fat enough. Craig Malloy, the CEO of the company said it is not possible for the company to do that… just yet. The video conferencing doesn’t involve much activity, unless you count the constant bickering over boss’ affection as intense action. Television signals on the other hand have too much going on, and need a bit more processing horse power and bandwidth than their $10,000 system. The company is going to release a $1000 model soon as well.

Interestingly, the video conferencing market is become a billion dollar a year business, but nothing much has essentially changed. These guys want to shake it up, and make life a tad tough for guys like Polycom. Did I say that the co-founders of the company were the guys who started ViaVideo, and sold it to Polycom and that product become Polycom’s video business. Well with that kind of track record, no surprise that the company has raised $38.5 million in funding from the likes of Norwest, Austin Ventures, Sutter Hill Ventures and Redpoint Ventures.

9 Responses to “LifeSize – Video-Conferencing in HiDef”

  1. DrDebug

    nah – DrDebug spends some days looking at crappy H.264 and VC-1 video at the claimed data rates. If they have magic technology for better compression, video conferencing is probably the least profitable avenue for capitalizing on it. Their system is only going to useful for board-room to board-room setups given that you really want to have their gear on both ends to get the nice picture.

    Om can check his logs to see where I work, and it isn’t a videoconferencing company. I worked a long time ago on iVisit (, and I worked for a failed FTTH company, SandStream Communications, during the boom. This experience has taught me to be skeptical of claims where I don’t control the source video for testing.

  2. DrDebug

    Om –

    Was the video talking heads? A largely static background with just some slight body movement compresses really well when compared to a more normal video stream. I am just having problems believing that they have made big advances in encoding technology versus the big researchers, particularly since they are trying to hire a ‘video team lead’ to handle H.264.

  3. DrDebug

    from their site – “LifeSize systems are based on the latest H.264 standard”.

    The ways to get their resolution over H.264 is to either reduce the update rate, resoluition, or assume that we are only doing talking heads – static backgrounds and moving heads.

    Until you see their video quality at one mb/s, I wouldn’t buy the hype. Even professional H.264 encoders at NTSC resolutions output pretty bad video at 1 mb/s – I doubt they do better.