Telepresence vs. video conferencing: What's the difference?

Though seemingly similar in concept, telepresence and video conferencing have different approaches to virtual meetings.

There was a time, about 10 to 15 years ago, when telepresence was the big buzzword in the video conferencing industry. Almost all business video products were marketed as telepresence in one way or another. This resulted in the uncertainty that people still experience today. Despite the marketing confusion, the difference between video conferencing and telepresence is clear.

What is video conferencing?

Video conferencing is any technology that enables people to see each other and interact in real time without being in the same room. In a typical meeting room, the remote attendee is not perfectly full-sized on the screen and is not positioned to be across the table, face to face, with the local attendees. On the other hand, if the CEO of a multibillion-dollar company wants to negotiate a significantly large deal face to face without traveling, telepresence may be worth the cost.

What is telepresence?

Telepresence is when video conferencing technology is used to create an experience that feels like being in the same room as the remote person. All telepresence services use video conferencing technology. But not all video conferencing provides a true telepresence experience.

Technology that offers a true telepresence experience could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and involves completely redesigning meeting rooms. The room would position the in-person attendees' chairs across the table from large screens, while remote attendees would be displayed on the video screen as 100% full-sized and positioned at eye level. The result is that the in-person attendees would feel as though they were sitting across the table from the full-sized remote attendees.

The selling point of telepresence is that, by creating the illusion of an actual in-person meeting, users get a more immersive experience that feels more real than a typical video call. However, the market seems to have spoken in favor of a simple, nontelepresence video call.

More often than not, video conferencing does the trick. Users just need to see the people that are being addressed. A video call on a laptop or phone will never be telepresence, but it still works.

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