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Friday, May 14, 2010

VenueGEN offers 3D virtual meetings

For those of us looking at replicating the feel of a face-to-face meeting as much as possible, VenueGEN’s new app might be the key. Instead of focusing on shared content—as with current web-conferencing apps such as Elluminate and Adobe Connect—VenueGEN seeks to develop immersive, engaging shared experiences.  The controls are aimed at replicating the real-world experience of sitting in a meeting room along with the unique online experience of sharing onscreen presentations and having private back-channel conversations while watching a public presentation. According to Rafe Needham from CNET, “Webex features include screen-sharing, markup tools, text chatting, and the like. Virtual screens (movie screens, TVs, and laptops) in the virtual space are used for sharing computer imagery.”

The program is built on a gaming platform but is definitely not a game or a virtual world like Second Life. VenueGen is a world of 3D rooms including a coffee shop table with 5 seats or even a university lecture hall with 46 seats. inhabited by human-appearing avatars with photo-mapped faces of you and other meeting participants. There are no cameras involved. The 3D avatars automatically start moving their lips when participants talk and participants can set their mood (which controls body language and facial expressions).  Positional audio give clues as to where other participants are located and the system tracks where everyone is so your avatar is pointed and “looking” at another person when talking.

VenueGEN boasts a low learning curve for participants—just click on the link in the e-mail. Needham concurred that learning to use the app was simple and fun. However, he also indicated that one of the drawbacks of the program was that setup was tedious and that users have to upload three plain photos of their faces from different angles to get the avatar to resemble them accurately.

VenueGEN is currently only available for the PC—no Mac or mobile versions yet. VenueGEN  says they are in development. Not sure what kind of PC is required for a smooth virtual experience since I use a pretty up-to-date machine.

Right now VenueGEN is offering a 30-day free trial. Subscriptions are based on number of participants in each meeting.

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