Video conferencing has gone HD and mobile and it incorporates multiple parties at once. But the basic experience of looking through a screen into someone’s else room is still largely static and narrow in scope. You basically see what the other person’s camera is pointed at and no more.
But video conferences are poised to get a lot more panoramic and interactive thanks to a stealth startup called Altia Systems, which is introducing its PanaCast video system Tuesday. The setup — which involves a Linux-based camera, allows users to get a high-definition, 60 frames-per-second, 200-degree view, which they can zoom in and pan around with using gestures or a mouse.
So instead of passively watching a presentation, viewers can survey an entire room and focus on whatever they want to. They don’t have to rely on a motorized camera on one end or a fish-eye lens that distorts the video. And they’ll be able to do it for less than $700 when the system becomes available in the first quarter of next year.
PanaCast’s portable camera, which connects via Ethernet, actually has six cameras inside. The company’s software stitches the images together into one wide view that is 2700×540. PanaCast transports the video over a standard 1920×1080 format by basically unfolding the stream so its double the width at half the height of standard HD video. The company, which has raised $3 million from Lanza techVentures and Dado and Rey Banatao, has also come up with its own codec that allows it to bring down latency to a millisecond. And the software, for which Altia has received one patent on so far, is also extremely efficient and can dynamically optimize the stream for changing network conditions.
As part of its marketing push, Altia has launched a Kickstarter campaign for PanaCast. A limited number of supporters who donate $399 or more can secure a camera starting in January.
Aurangzeb Khan, CEO and president of Altia Systems said this provides an affordable way to conduct video conferences, that are high-quality but also very interactive. It might take on Cisco’s pricy telepresence systems in some accounts, for example. Instead of paying sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars for a tele-conference room and additional expenses for dedicated T-1 lines, Altia customers can push out video to a handful of users directly from the camera, which has its own linux server inside. Or they can connect to PanaCast Cloud, which will allow companies to broadcast to many more users.
Altia Systems expects to release more product information and final pricing in December. The company is working on applications for iOS (s aapl), Android (s goog), Windows (s msft) and Macs that will allow users to tune in and watch the PanaCast videos.