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June 9, 2008

Halo – what’s inside?

GLOBAL – The other day we gave our first lowdown on what it’s like to have a meeting using the new Halo telepresence system Nokia’s been rolling out internally. There’s more to Halo than meets the eye though and thanks to Product Manager Phil Brockbank (in the right hand screen), we’ve taken a look inside to see how it all happens.

Each Halo meeting room is a custom built suite, designed to fit into a regular conference room. The whole kit is installed on masse and standardised so every room looks and feels the same, and more importantly, operates the same way – right down to the chairs (Herman Miller Aerons). Cameras and lenses are all broadcast quality to ensure optimum resolution is available when broadcast on the plasmas (the detail plasma is hi-def).

Sound is fully duplexed spatial audio with echo cancellation which means you can hear, as well as see, everything that goes on. Microphones are installed on the tables, in a pretty unobtrusive way,
to capture audio.

The front and back walls have been specially designed to reduce distraction and enhance the appearance of being in the same place. By curving the back wall, for instance, you feel the people you’re talking
to are in a normal room.

Learning to use new systems can be a real bind, but the Halo system uses a proprietary user interface which we have to say works brilliantly. Four people who’d never been inside a suite before instantly got a connection up and running just by clicking around – it’s that easy.

Interestingly, HP hooked up with Shrek creators DreamWorks Animation SKG, to design the system. DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg wanted his team to create a telepresence solution to help drive collaboration without increasing travel between Europe and the US. The team performed a host of social engineering tests and plugged into their experience of virtual environments when coming up with a solution. Aesthitics were important too and every aspect of the suite was considered, from layout and design right through to lighting and camera placement. Even furniture and fabric selection. HP used its technology expertise to bring the system to life and give birth to what we now know as Halo.

The whole system works on the Halo Video Exchange Network. Very secure, the dedicated network ensures broadcast quality footage and audio can be delivered across the world with little or no perceived delay. Aside
from that there are two other key benefits to being on the network. The first is the ability to connect to other organisations using Halo, be they customers or suppliers. Secondly, the Halo concierge service ensures that if you ever have a problem, day or night, you can simply click on the concierge link and someone will help you sort it out. Even if it’s a simple support question.

All in all, the system is proving to be hugely popular within Nokia and we’re still pretty stoked at having given it a go. Have you used it?