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Google Gets Behind 3D Mobile Video Conferencing
By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor
Judging by a recent patent application, Google (News - Alert) appears to be working on conferencing’s final but oft-dreamed of frontier: personal, mobile 3D video conferencing. However, the devil is in the details; the first leg of that journey is likely to be innovative, but a bit less whiz-bang.
The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has published an application from Mountain View that calls for a personal gadget with…wait for it…dual cameras. The reference design’s clearly illustrated side-by-side cameras are stereoscopic in nature, just as 3D technology requires. Additionally, the “computing device 200” in the application is described as having the possibility of taking a number of form factors, including a notebook, smartphone, tablet, e-reader or any other portable, smart, connected device.
Needless to say, such a service would be game-changing for conferencing, and for interpersonal communications. While there is already 3D conferencing in the market, it has thus far been relegated to the boardroom, with only a handful of vendors offering the technology. HP’s SkyRoom is one, an enterprise-targeted system with an experience that is reminiscent of Darth Vadar’s communications with the Emperor in Star Wars, only with better image resolution. Panasonic (News - Alert) also just launched a 3D, HD room-based product. These, naturally, have high-tech price-tags to match.
Meanwhile, researchers at the Human Media Lab at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, have developed a life-sized “telepod” that uses Microsoft's Kinect System and a cylindrical display for hologram-like 3D video conferencing.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are at four well-known video chat services—Apple’s Facetime, Skype, Google Talk and Facebook chat—that do mobile video communications and they do it well, on a variety of platforms from smartphones to tablets. But at the heart these are best-efforts, somewhat rudimentary iterations of a vision that could be much, much bigger, and much, much more revenue-generating.
But bring the two extremes together, and it’s the idea of one’s own personal, portable, consumer- and business-friendly holodeck. That’s a seductive concept. The accompanying business models are attractive across a range of ecosystem stakeholders, including wireless carriers, Wi-Fi providers, CE manufacturers, broadband and pay-TV operators, channel partners and applications developers.
But of course, it’s a long way from patent application to commercialized IP. As just one small example, the impact on the partner networks carrying the traffic and the service structuring and management that would be required for it to be reliable would be big considerations all on their own. Another issue is more localized: for this to work and work well, Google would really need to dispense with the 3D glasses requirement, since obscuring the face of the person on the other end somewhat negates the purpose of conducting a 3D call in the first place. Eliminating the glasses is something that some consumer electronics vendors, like Samsung, have pioneered, but only from the standpoint of a viewer being a proscribed amount of feet away from the screen – not conducive to a mobile device-based conferencing.
In other words, perfecting affordable, mobile, glasses-less 3D conferencing doesn’t exactly sound like a simple technology R&D task.
Luckily for Google and the world, in the meantime those dual-cameras can be used for a couple of different uses, both of which bring conferencing further along on the innovation track.
According to Google's patent filing, the end game is a device that is multimodal: stereoscopic or 3D mode, a multi-image mode, a fallback “regular” single-image mode and high-dynamic range (HDR (News - Alert)) mode. The first uses for the camera design are likely to be in the multi-image arena.
Imagine that a user trains one camera at herself and the other at a friend or colleague across the table. By virtue of software, Google explained, the two images could be ported into a single frame so that for the person on the other end, it appears that the people are sitting side-by-side. Or, the two images could be used in a picture-in-picture scenario, with the ability to toggle between the two, for a more professional, “roundtable” effect.
Regardless of whether 3D video chat appears on Android (News - Alert) tablets anytime soon, the fact that Google is thinking in new directions for conferencing service is important. Despite big growth, innovation has been lackluster in the segment, focusing mainly in on HD and finding a standards-based way to make video interoperable. But with a video conferencing spending forecast to total $22 billion between now and 2016, according to Infonetics, the category could use some bleeding edge thinking to take it to the next level.
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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo