In its first foray into the videoconferencing market, Cisco Systems has announced two “telepresence” systems it said are capable of supporting conference-room-size communication.

Randy Harrell, director of TelePresence product marketing, said Cisco believed its technology would provide higher-quality performance than does traditional room-based teleconferencing equipment.

Cisco claims that its video screen resolution is 1,080p in a progressive-scan format, about four times the quality of a standard interlaced TV.

Cisco built all of its videoconferencing components in-house, including an echo-cancelling microphone, an HD camera, a plasma screen video display and a coder/decoder device that translates analogue signals to digital ones and back again.

Harrell said it would cost about $250,000 to set up a conference room capable of handling virtual meetings for a dozen people. That price includes a three-display TelePresence 3000 system and a year of maintenance from Cisco.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research in Boston, said he went into a demonstration of Cisco's products "really sceptical but came out a changed man. This is the first videoconferencing system I've seen that has the opportunity to change the way people interact with one another."

But Kerravala noted that Cisco's systems are "relatively expensive" and require the use of a specialised room.

Cisco's strategy is somewhat similar to Hewlett-Packard's Halo program, under which HP offers videoconferencing links from studios that it designed in partnership with movie maker DreamWorks.

Based on reporting by Matt Hamblen of Computerworld (US).