[ieee 2012 ieee virtual reality (vr) - costa mesa, ca, usa (2012.03.4-2012.03.8)] 2012 ieee virtual...

Download [IEEE 2012 IEEE Virtual Reality (VR) - Costa Mesa, CA, USA (2012.03.4-2012.03.8)] 2012 IEEE Virtual Reality (VR) - Mixing real and virtual conferencing: Lessons learned

Post on 19-Mar-2017




2 download

Embed Size (px)


  • Mixing Real and Virtual Conferencing: Lessons Learned

    Ajay Surendernath Geetika Sharma Ralph Schroeder Basant Kumar Pandey

    Tata Consultancy Tata Consultancy University of Oxford Tata Consultancy

    Services Ltd. Services Ltd. Services Ltd.


    This paper describes a conference which linked several remote sites via a virtual environment so that the virtual audience could follow the presentations and interact with real presenters. The aim was to assess the feasibility of linking distributed virtual audiences to an ongoing conference event. Various types of data about the conference were gathered, such as participant observations, interviews and a survey of the audience, and analyzed. The main finding is that a number of low tech improvements could be made that could greatly enhance this type of virtual conferencing. A related finding is that the visual fidelity of the environment and of the avatars plays a lesser role than other factors such as audio quality. Given the paucity of research on how virtual conferencing can substitute for travel, plus the urgency of this topic for environmental reasons, a number of suggestions are made for the implementation of remote virtual conference participation.

    Index Terms: Collaborative virtual environments, real and virtual conferences, virtual environments.


    In this paper, we describe our experience of a technical conference which involved the participation of both a real as well as virtual audience from a dozen different locations. We present various types of data, including participant observation, informal interviews, and a survey of the remote virtual audience participants.


    A conference shares some of the features of collaborative virtual

    environments (CVEs), like those used in education. There are a

    number of studies of CVEs [1], though these have not specifically

    focused on remote conference participation. Conferences also

    share some features of distributed work meetings, which have

    been far less studied [4]. Finally, there are similarities with virtual

    exhibitions [3]. Conferences using CVEs are nevertheless

    different from these three uses of CVEs in that they involve

    speakers and audiences and bring people together for the

    exchange of ideas. Yet virtual conferences have rarely been

    investigated or evaluated [2].

    The virtual/real conference that we describe here is novel in at

    least five ways: one is the mix of the virtual and real audience.

    The second is that the conference was carried out in a CVE which

    was restricted to researchers from one organization, rather than in

    an open-to-all environment like Second Life. Third, the

    conference was sustained over the course of two and a half days.

    Fourth, the conference brought together 12 locations where

    participants were co-located but from where they could take part

    in a single virtual lecture theatre with avatars. Fifth, the virtual

    world was developed specifically for work inside the company.


    The virtual environment (VE) that was used was VirtualOffice

    (VO), a system designed to enable workplace collaboration [4].

    The system was tested extensively beforehand. It has been shown

    that videoconferencing needs a lot of testing, especially when

    there are a number of remote locations involved [5].

    The study was carried out in the course of a two and a half day

    conference. The format was that of a typical research conference:

    keynotes, presentations, two tracks for parallel presentations

    during part of the conference (only one of these tracks

    implemented the virtual audience participation). The conference

    was attended by approximately 80 researchers at the real

    conference location and approximately 55 researchers in 12

    remote locations, though we obtained data only from 37

    participants from 8 locations in India. To manage the VE, there

    were two operators at the physical location (one primarily to

    handle the camera view, the other to handle audio and questions

    from virtual audience). At each remote location, a conference room was set up to broadcast the proceedings of the physical conference with one operator. The VO window was projected in the conference room showing a live video feed from the physical conference, the presentation document of the speaker and a graphical view of the

    Figure 1 (a) View of real auditorium (b) View seen by remote audience

    surendranath.ajay@gmail.com, geetika.s@tcs.com, ralph.schroeder@oii.ox.ac.uk, bk.pandey@tcs.com


    IEEE Virtual Reality 20124-8 March, Orange County, CA, USA978-1-4673-1246-2/12/$31.00 2012 IEEE

  • virtual auditorium on a single projection screen. Multiple cameras were pre-configured in VO show views of the VE from different vantage points.


    We begin with observations based on informal interviews with the

    real audience and on participant observation at the real


    Camera View of the Virtual Lecture Theatre: During the

    conference, various views of the virtual lecture theatre, such as

    that of the audience, the presentation screen and of avatars

    moving around were displayed to both the real and virtual

    audiences. The system would automatically focus on the avatar

    asking a question whenever a remote attendee would do so. For

    the real audience, the balance between a static virtual lecture

    theatre and switching the view was important.

    Virtual Speaker: There were look-alike or generic avatars of the

    speaker in the virtual lecture theatre and the virtual audience.

    There were a few occasions when the video stream became

    unavailable due to low bandwidth at either the streaming out or

    the receiving location. In such cases, having the speakers avatar

    visible helped preserve a sense of continuity for the virtual


    Recognition of questions from the virtual audience and turn-

    taking: Speakers prioritized recognizing questions from the real

    audience by a ratio of perhaps ten real to one avatar question.

    Since avatars had their hands raised for many more questions, this

    means that many questions from the virtual audience were not

    answered. It was very difficult for the speaker to simultaneously

    scan the virtual audience in addition to the scanning the real

    audience to identify the raised hands of avatars. Turn-taking also

    relates to following up on questions with a second comment or

    question, and this proved almost impossible for the virtual

    audience - whereas it is easy for the real audience. We now turn to the results of a survey which was completed by remote conference participants at eight remote locations with 37 responses to 15 multiple choice and open-ended questions. Most of the remote participants (29) filled out the survey in the first session of the virtual conference they attended. 8 filled out the survey on returning to the virtual conference for another session. When asked if they had used video conferencing tools such as WebEx [6] before, 30 said they had and 4 had not (3 did not answer). We also asked whether they preferred WebEx or the virtual world and why, and there were 12 roughly evenly divided responses (some pointed to advantages and disadvantages of both): those that preferred the virtual world mentioned the greater multimodality, independent control over presentation documents, interactivity and intuitiveness. The drawbacks of the virtual world were poor audio and video. Among those who preferred WebEx-type videoconferencing, the reasons included greater reliability, and better video and audio quality. A striking feature of the survey responses is how mixed and nuanced the answers were. This could indicate a validation of the usefulness of the questions, but more importantly suggests that remote participants recognized the benefits as well as the drawbacks of virtual conference participation. From other open ended questions asked, it was perceived that over half the participants found the audio to be of poor quality.


    Having learned a number of lessons from this conference, we now

    describe a number of ways in which the problems that occurred

    during the event could be overcome, and how future events of this

    type could be socio-technically managed to enhance the

    experience - both in terms of the effectiveness of the task and the

    enjoyment of the social interaction.

    Ways to Enhance Future Virtual Conferences: One feature

    which could easily be implemented in future conference events is

    allowing people to move between different parallel track

    presentations. As long as all of them are captured on video and the

    presentations are made available in different virtual lecture

    theatres, avatars could freely move between them. Another useful

    feature at mixed real/virtual conferences could be to allow real

    audience members to go up to the screen and speak to avatars

    whom they recognize during breaks.

    Communication and Interaction Problems and Potential

    Solutions: Apart from the technical problems, there are a number

    of socio-technical management solutions. A cr


View more >