A POWERFUL clue has emerged that South Africans are finally beginning to get affordable broadband: one of the three most popular international websites in this country is YouTube – beaten only by Google and Facebook in amount of traffic from South Africa.
YouTube also happens to be the third most visited site among internet users globally.
That highlights another trend that is so significant, it is an information revolution in itself: video has become one of the most popular forms of accessing information online. The trend has enormous implications for education, health, business and even politics.
Real estate agents are using video to showcase properties, the tourism industry is using it to offer virtual tours of prospective accommodation establishments, schools and universities are using it to share the lectures and courses of some of the world’s great teachers, and businesses are using it for training and communications.
At the very cutting edge, it is being used to provide an immersive meeting experience for businesses that need something more than shaky images on a TV screen during a video conference.
Last week I sat in on just such meeting in the Bryanston, Johannesburg, offices of multinational networking company Cisco. With a group of Cisco engineers, I sat at a “tele-presence” desk, facing three large video screens, in a meeting with one of their colleagues sitting at a similar desk in San Jose, California, looking into similar video screens.
Thanks to the size of the screens, Anna Rubchinskaya appeared life-sized to us, as we did to her. And, because the same furniture is used in these offices across the globe from each other, she also appeared to be sitting in the office with us.
The multiple video screens weren’t just for show, however. As we spoke, the left-hand screen began transmitting the content that she was playing off a digital media player onto the computer she had on her desk.
The right-hand screen displayed the content from a digital signboard on a wall in her office, which was continually updated with Cisco announcements.
She then hit a button, and one of the screens began displaying a collage of images from surveillance cameras around her building. The moment sensors in the cameras detected movement in a high-security area, they triggered an alarm and brought the video for that image to the fore of the collage.
“It shows how physical security, can be integrated into our video and conferencing systems, alongside digital signs and the ability to capture, transform and share video,” said Rubchinskaya.
At the heart of the technology lies a system called a Media Experience Engine, which allows users to integrate almost any applications, from health services like vital sign monitoring by a specialist doctor on the other side of the world to security in a parking garage downstairs.
If it sounds like something that’s been around for a while, then the difference lies in the quality of the video, and the management of the content. The doctor can conduct a close-up examination of the skin condition of a patient 10 000km away. The parking garage can zoom into the registration plates of a motorbike or the face of its rider.
“The big advances are also in what you can do with those images,” says Bilal Sherrief, a Cisco consulting systems engineer sitting in on the meeting. He signals Rubchinskaya, and she picks up an iPhone, aims it at us, and makes a quick video while she provides a running commentary.
“Through an application called Capture-Transform-Share, you can make a video on an iPhone, store it in a folder for the app on the phone, and via WiFi it is automatically sent to the Media Experience Engine. There it is transformed into the video format you want.”
The video suddenly appears on the digital sign in her office.
Sherrief chips in: “You can use the desktop tele-presence unit as a digital sign, as a tele-presence device, and even as a high-definition video recording studio. Traditionally you needed a camera crew and sound engineer for that; now you just use the media experience engine.”
As a result, high quality video material can now be created quickly, and shared across an organisation. The system has been described as YouTube for the Enterprise, and can be combined with instant messaging, social networks, presentation slides and even automated transcripts of speeches as they are being made.
“Two worlds are coming together,” says Sherrief. “A world of content and a world of visual communications.”
The revolution, it seems, will not be on video. It will be video.
*Arthur Goldstuck is managing director of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter or Pinterest on @art2gee
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