5. februar 2008

Natural Communication

Lecture by Eamonn Shaw (Tandberg)

Shaw presents us with what Tandberg feel is their challenges developing video communication tools

Screens and Display

Even in the context of the very visual world we live in the level of collaboration between participants in a video conference is still at a very basic level. You see and talk to your opponents. There is an issue of passive vs. active interaction. This is related to the idea that participants in the conference can act as viewers while the ideal would have them as users of the system. If they are viewers the system is reduced to TV and the videoconferencing system has failed.

For me this sounds like an issue of transparency. The technology struggles with removing the barrier between the people that communicate – technology. This barrier is complex and several factors are in play here.

Shaw says there is nothing that stops the communication to step away from the traditional screen and start projecting on to surfaces as an option. But I think there need to be a clear agenda for why it should be removed from the screen. Other future scenarios include touch screens, 3d and virtual/augmented reality.

Cameras and sensors
The value of seeing eye to eye during communication is immense. The current technology tries to reduce the parallax effect between the camera (mounted close to the screen) and the line of sight of the user to a minimum. This results in better eye contact and that improves contact and presence.

Using the cameras as more than eyes (i.e. “Eye Toy”?) adds a lot of new information to the video conferencing concept. But at Tandberg they focus on delivering their core assets, HQ Video (also beyond HD) and Audio conferencing that has no information superimposed. Shaw mentions NASA using cameras as sensors analyzing the world on the other side of the video link in real time.

The technical part of telepresence is complex, but done right should be of no concern to the user. The user interface of such systems has a much more exposed relation to the user. Click, Touch or Point are usually the available methods of interaction. Gesture based interaction is much hyped at the moment, with the Wii as the king pin. When testing Wii like controllers they simply did not meet the required precision in their interaction with the systems their clients demanded. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” is still a virtue that Tandberg tries to follow.

Natural Communication?

Hearing (talking?) and seeing is the platform we humans communicate on. Gestures and touch confirm and create context for our interactions. And these set the premise of our communication through any kind of technology.


We humans tend to reduce everything that we experience into good and bad. The goal for Tandberg is to reduce complexity to a minimum, so that the systems go transparent and only the communication between people remains. Sadly, videoconferencing breakdowns are quite inelegant. Strange events always come through as negative in communication.

Response and fidelity

When we respond or confirm, timing is everything. Immediate feedback without glitches is crucial for a good experience. And to my surprise the audio is the most important thing to get right. Shaw continues to describe this as an effect of our Audio perception being the same around the clock, whereas our vision is always affected by our environment (time of day, inside outside, dry eyes etc.). Our vision tolerates a much higher degree of distortion than our hearing. Better audio produces faster reaction times!

Motion also increases attention. The use of motion to get the message across is a valid tool in communication. 3-4 seconds of screen time is needed to show people something. The last thing that enters the screen (1/2 sec after the rest) gets the primary attention.


What is the wow factor in your product? Identify and find that snapshot/episode in the interaction that delivers the wow effect. The utility of a product is defined by the pleasure or pain it produces. This equals level of desirability. Borrowed from storytelling the "Peak and End Rule" is very important to ensure the desire for more. Highs and lows are defined as more important than the duration of the event. Endings are critical, so increased pleasure at the end, however small, will positively affect the perception of the experience. This often leads to people favor one experience over another


People find horizontal shapes most pleasurable, because this facilitates our peripheral vision . And he also mentions a quote by Donald Norman that “Attractive things make people feel good. This in turn improves creativity.” Adding "real" physics to lists and screen based graphics helps us to orientate our selves. We rapidly accept gravity and kinetics in our interactive experiences.

Q&A - Stubs
Virtual window: Having an open video link ("window") to the opposite part (like having a wormhole wall in your office that connects to you Tokyo office)

Systems with a high level of accuracy is key to people that are distrusting to existing technology. They would rapidly distrust inaccurate systems.

RFID to log on would be nice in a security aspect. But maybe not that user friendly (requires objects to be carried around).

Q. How far away from your current tech is your research?
A. 50% of above is under research. Making systems more intuitive (in my view transparent) is the Interaction Designers job; they do not need to think of the tech. They try to move away from the traditional telepresence equipment (remotes, menus etc.) into more tangible natural ways of communicate.

Google is a big user of Tandbergs equipment.

HP has a system to facilitate huge amounts of
bandwidth exclusive to telepresence.

Tandberg control the environment around their systems by actually building them (the rooms).

Damage control is important, when failing it is important to not
embarrass the user.

We are welcome to work with all the challenges above.

Tandberg is open for collaboration on our upcoming master thesis.

Competitors include: Polycom, Sony, Microsoft (Round table).

Augmented reality: None, they remove all additional information from the video. This feels more natural. It is a real challenge when two people
start working on the same visual material on the screen.

Testing the telepresence systems is really worth visiting Tandberg for.

Telepresence - A more immersive videocon
ference; sitting across the table of the participants of the conference.

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