Sightdeck: High-End Compositing & Virtual Sets Meet Telepresence

SightDeck_AdMore and more it seems that things from long in my past are recurring in the present day. To give you some context, you should know that in the early ‘90s when I was working as an editor in video post-production I became very familiar with blue/green screen techniques.

At one point I was editing commercials for a large Canadian supermarket chain where the President was blue screen composited against close-up shots of the products. We made tremendous use of Ultimatte gear as well as Ampex’s Spectrakey.

Jump twenty years into the future when this I see that Telepresence Options is highlighting Sightdeck, a live presentation facility for telepresence applications. Sightdeck is from iMatte, a company created by the founders of Ultimatte. Warning, iMatte’s web site is a study in lame.

Sightdeck is essentially an evolved version of their compositing and virtual set technologies. These things have existed in the television and film production realms for along while. It’s interesting to see them evolve to the point of be accessibility to the high-end of the telepresence space.

The demo clip that’s on their web site was lifted from NAB2011 and performed between the Ultimatte and Accuweather booths. It highlights some fairly impressive capabilities of the system.

Traditionally, talent in front of a green screen doesn’t see the graphics over which they are composited. They see the composited image on another display, usually near to the camera. That means that there’s some considerable skill required to interact with the graphics.

SightDeck_Paul_Motorcycle-thumb-550x164-6536

In contrast, Sightdeck allows the person giving the presentation to do so over the exact images that they are using in the presentation. Sightdeck then replaces that image with an original, high-quality version in the final output. That allows the presenter to work directly with the material they are presenting in a very natural manner.

Further, it uses the light from the projector as a fill light for the talent, even tweaking it to provide color matched fill where the talent transitions to the background. It’s impressive stuff in action.

Perceptive Pixel 82 inch touch displaySightdeck also supports sophisticated prompting and control overlays for the presenter. This sort of thing reminds me a lot of Perceptive Pixel, a company bought by Microsoft in 2012. They are the company responsible for the large touch-screen installations that have been seen used by CNN and various of the ABC-owned stations.

I have no idea what a typical Sightdeck installation costs, but the flow diagram showing multiple channels of dedicated H.264 encode hardware and HD-SDI signal distribution makes me think that it’s not cheap. It’s clearly not aimed at SMB or SOHO users. That said, everything finds its way down-market eventually.

Sightdeck is a great indication of where telepresence can go as it continues to advance. It also illustrates how technologies developed for the broadcast and entertainment industries can find a new application in corporate and interpersonal communications as costs decline over time.