Next best thing to "teleporting"?

May 6, 2009: 1:46 PM ET

Cisco CEO John Chambers doesn't just talk a good game about telepresence, the videoconferencing technology that creates the illusion you're in a room with someone who's actually thousands of miles away. He's planning to install his company's high-end system in his Silicon Valley home, provided he and his wife can agree on a spot for it. "I figured we could convert one of the kids' old bedrooms," since they've grown up and left the house," he says. "She told me, 'You do that and you'll be sleeping in there.'"

Though he's not done negotiating the location, one thing that Chambers doesn't have to worry about is cost. ­As longtime chief at the networking giant, he can surely afford the installation, which can easily run north of $150,000 per room.

But can his customers? Even as Chambers and rivals such as Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500), Polycom (PLCM) and Tandberg tout telepresence as the perfect tech tool to reduce travel costs and boost productivity, observers have their doubts. Sure, telepresence enables meetings on three or more huge screens, in high definition with pristine audio quality. (CSCO) (HPQ) (PLCM) (T)

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