Video Phones Call Home

New cameras and PC hardware make it easier (and cheaper) to see that special someone

A few years ago, videoconferencing was a high-cost item limited to businesses, with prices ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. In a 1996 study, the Pelorus Group, a Raritan, New Jersey-based company that studies technological trends, predicted that videoconferencing use among U.S. companies will increase by more than 150% within five years. As companies have sough I to lower travel costs, the industry has responded by creating better products at lower prices spurring widespread use. The latest advancements have even brought videoconferencing technology into the home.

Both Intel and Zoom Telephonics recently introduced videophones for families and small businesses. Intel’s Create & Share camera pack includes a combination modem and video capture card that lets you see and hear your phone conversations via the Net or regular telephone lines. The Zoom/Video Cam uses a similar modem/video capture card combination. These cards work in conjunction with a small camera mounted atop your computer.

But don’t expect to see smooth, full-motion video from either of these products. While both use K56 Flex modem technology, you won’t achieve more than 15 frames per second for video. Depending on the resolution, which goes no higher than 352 x 288 pixels for the Zoom (and 640 x 480 for Intel), and the quality of your connection, you may get an even slower picture. So you won’t be able to give a presentation to a prospective client, but you can see far-flung relatives who also have desktop PC cameras.

Don’t worry about having the wrong model camera. As long as it is H.323 and H.324 (video phone standards) compatible, you’re in for a glimpse of the 21st century. You’ll be able to send video e-mail and create home videos. Zoom retails for $270 and Intel for $199. For more information, contact Zoom Telephonics at 800-666-6191 or Intel at 800-538-3373.

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