Cisco Launches Home Videoconferencing Device?

Cisco has launched a new set-top box system that allows videoconferencing over a standard DSL connection and a high definition TV.

The system, dubbed Umi, requires a 3.5MBps broadband connection and uses a set-top box with three processors and a graphics subsystem to allow videoconferencing direct to the home. The company has said it expects a host of new online video services, from medical referrals to financial planning advice, to use the system.

"There's new market transition starting, the most significant of them all," said Martin De Beer, Cisco's senior vice president of emerging technology.

"This will be about the pervasive use of video in everywhere on every device."

The basic Umi system uses a set-top box, a separate video camera and a remote control to control the system, and improved processing in the system's codec has cut the lag between speech and transmission to around 200 milliseconds. Cisco's research indicates this is small enough to provide near-seemless communication and establish trust between users.

While the system is H.264 compliant the company said videoconferencing calls would be limited to other Umi devices and users of Google video chat, although other interoperability deals were being considered.

The system will be rolled out initially in the US priced at $599 with a $25 per month charge for unlimited calls. Cisco said it was actively seeking overseas partners for the system and would be holding further country-specific rollouts, but would not be drawn on the timescale.

Cisco said that it was expecting that third party service providers would begin offering video services to the home, such as remote doctor's visits, meeting with accountants or for companies to provide customer service.

The company already has a suite of videoconferencing (or telepresence) products on offer to business - both under its own brand and using Tandberg systems. However, the home and businesses offerings won't interoperate as yet.

"The home offering is similar to the enterprise version in two key ways - it is impressive and expensive," wrote Forrester principle analyst James McQuivey in a blog posting.

"It's likely that Cisco is hoping its service provider partners will subsidise the devices or service fees to make the prices a bit more realistic for mainstream homes. But any debate over the price vs. quality tradeoff will likely disappear over the next year as costs come down and cheaper, lower-quality alternatives like Skype built in to an LG TV or Microsoft's Xbox 360 video Kinect conference option hits homes next month."

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