High quality videoconferencing restaurant

It's always dangerous to predict that soon we will all videoconference, but the technology really is getting better (See the Marconi ViPr, for example.) And bandwidth is getting cheaper. The Marconi system wants 8 megabits bidirectional -- the secret being not to do very fancy compression to instead push for really low latency and hi resolution -- but this is getting to be more affordable.

Here's a possible application. Nice restaurants making tables for a remote virtual dinner date. A table for one facing a screen, connected with another such table in another city. Get together for dinner with distant friends. Of course, one would also like to do it for larger groups but as the Marconi project shows, that requires losing too much resolution (at least for now) to get an acceptable experience.

Another barrier -- you want a lifesize screen here, but a bigger screen means a larger difference from the other's eyes and the camera, and that just looks wrong. The low latency requirement stops us from playing cute tricks, like having two cameras left and right and trying to calculate an eye that's looking at you. This is hard to do though some day we might solve it.

For an added touch the restaurants, if they share a menu, might even offer you a taste of the dish the other person ordered. Here, try this, it's delicious. Hokey, but who knows? Harder of course to provide physical contact, though there have been attempts to build gloves for virtual handsakes and in the extreme there is teledildonics.

Of course the system (without the teledildonics) would also be popular for business lunches. Of course there are lots of videoconferencing centers trying to sell their services for business meetings, but we have a certain attraction to meeting for lunch for a one one one or 2 on 2. It might make work what we haven't done before.

On the other hand, I think we should work to eliminate the speakerphone from the audio conference call. It's never great. Just give everybody in the room a bluetooth earbud or headset, and headsets for anybody joining remotely. Good audio, full duplex, ability to interrupt. Forget the echo cancelling and tinny acoustics.

Problem is the other face moves and because it's 2D the eye's won't be looking at you. And you have a hole in the screen. If it's rear projection you can't have a camera behind it, and front projection of course you can't get close to. There are people working on the problem though, and it may be solved one day. I saw one group of guys who claimed they could accept light into a vast array of sensors and use digital processing to simulate the lens and focus it!

Surely there's a way to mount a webcam such that it's virtually behind the eyes of the displayed face. Either through a keyhole in the screen -- which could just be a projection surface -- or some other teleprompter-like translucent reflector.

I'm vaguely reminded of a holographic meeting system depicted in Oliver Stone's 'Wild Palms'.

I suspect people could get used to a small
hole in a screen, perhaps even finding it
helpful as a point to anchor one's eyes on,
or a reference location to adjust one's own
head position for the benefit of their
conversant. Call it a telepresence bindi.

As you move off center, small feedback cues
from the other person could quickly train
you to tend back towards the middle -- or
to use conscious deviations from the middle for
expressiveness.

So it'd be interesting to try an LCD with a
small webcam embedded near center at "eye" level.

Couldnt the right sort of lens -- and a
sufficiently flat projection surface --
allow front projection from a rather sharp
off-to-side angle? How about if the projection
surface is actually an array of tiny surfaces
angled toward the projector?

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