The home office in HD

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Maybe I just like new tech gadgets, but I'm actually rather excited by Cisco's debut of a residential Telepresence service. Umi, available in the US, costs $599 for the unit plus $24.99 per month service fee. The box connects to your HDTV by HDMI and supports 1080p video calling, 720p video recording and interworks with any webcam and over-the-top service like Google Chat.

Like an enterprise HD video conferencing system, it has beamforming (i.e. it throws sounds around), motorized aim and auto-focus. And that's why I quite like the idea of it - because it's very much like the technology that is being rapidly adopted by multinational businesses around the world.

Some commentators suggest that the price point will attract a limited pool of potential users, particularly when they can use Skype video for free. But that is rather missing the point - the service is for people who want a much more immersive experience, with free flowing conversation and less hiccups. And surely there is a nascent demand for this among middle income families separated by oceans.

And it could also be appealing for the busy business executive looking to improve their work-life balance. A home-based Telepresence system would be a great enhancement for the home office. If you want tools to help people work from home more effectively - and surely visual collaboration Many senior execs do not get the opportunity to work from home unlike their staff - they need to be on hand to make decisions and attend meetings. But if their presence in the office is to conduct a meeting via Telepresence with an outlying office, or customer, then why not do it from home. It can extend the working day (for those emergency meetings with the board), cut down on travel emissions, and ensure that you get properly dressed for the work-from-home day (i.e. no typing in your PJ's).

Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.