HD video hits desktops with hardware, software

LifeSize introduced client software for meetings, while Radvision and Samsung built a monitor with built-in videconferencing

LifeSize Communications and Radvision are taking two different routes toward high-definition desktop videoconferencing, both aiming to bring more participants into the virtual room.

The quality of video meetings has taken great strides in the past few years with the advent of room-sized systems that deliver lifelike 1080p (1,080-pixel, progressive-scan) video on large flat screens and strategically placed sound. But rank-and-file employees who can't get to a video room, or get a seat in one, are often left with a lower quality experience if they try to participate from hotel rooms or cubicles.

On Monday, LifeSize introduced desktop software to complement its family of dedicated videoconferencing systems, while Radvision teamed up with Samsung Electronics to introduce a PC monitor that doubles as a high-definition screen for meetings.

The LifeSize Desktop application is designed for use on standard Windows XP and Vista systems, including laptops, particularly for employees who work at home or on the road, said Michael Helmbrecht, director of product management.

Most full-size laptops purchased in the past 18 to 24 months will have the power to run LifeSize Desktop, he said. The software is designed to have a relatively small impact on the processing power of the PC. Tests by LifeSize indicate the application will consume about 40 percent of a typical Intel Core 2 Duo-based system. That makes it possible to run the software alongside regular productivity applications without a major hit to performance, he said.

LifeSize Desktop can decode incoming video from a larger conferencing system at 720p and 30 frames per second. It can encode video of the user at 480p, also at 30 frames per second, to send upstream for viewing on full-size systems or other PCs. Depending on the quality setting that is used, the software can work with an Internet connection of between 128Kb per second (Kbps) and 2Mbps, and a user or administrator can set asymmetric limits on how much bandwidth the application can use upstream and downstream, Helmbrecht said.

The software was designed primarily to meet the demands of LifeSize customers, both large and small enterprises, that want to complement their existing videconferencing systems with something for workers on the road. But it can communicate with any standard videoconferencing system using the SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) standard, Helmbrecht said. LifeSize Desktop will be available in the third quarter, starting at US$199 per seat license, with packs of licenses ranging from one seat to 100 seats.

Radvision and Samsung bypassed the CPU power question altogether, while allowing users to integrate their desktop videconferencing systems with their PCs physically. The VC240 is a 24-inch Samsung high-definition PC monitor with a built-in DSP (digital signal processor) for videoconferencing. The unit also includes a built-in high-definition camera, speakers, and a microphone with echo cancellation.

The VC240 can work as a standard monitor until the user needs to join a videoconference, and then show the meeting either on the full screen or in a window, said Bob Romano, vice president of enterprise marketing at Radvision. Because of the built-in DSP, videoconferences don't drain the PC's processor. Alternatively, the unit can sit on the desk and operate as a standalone platform for video or audio conferencing.

Radvision is a longtime maker of IP (Internet Protocol) videoconferencing products that makes products such as gateways and MCUs (multi-conference units). Cisco Systems resells some Radvision MCUs. The VC240 is fully interoperable with Radvision's Scopia product line, so users can participate in meetings with colleagues in high-end video rooms, he said.

Romano compared the VC240 to standalone desktop videoconferencing units from competitors such as Tandberg and Polycom but said it will come in at just a fraction of the cost. The units should sell for less than $3,000, he said. The product will ship in volume in the third quarter of this year, Romano said.

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