For 21st Century citizens of a certain age, nothing quite says "future" like videoconferencing. While low-resolution video has been common on VoIP calls for some time now, Skype and Logitech are moving the ball toward the kind of high-resolution calls made famous by the Jetsons.
The two companies are teaming up to offer 640 x 480, 30-frames-per-second, relatively low-cost live video for phone calls. To get this kind of quality, the user must have what Logitech describes as one of its "premium" webcams and its newest QuickCam software version, as well as Skype version 3.6 or higher for Windows, a PC with a dual core processor, and a broadband connection.
The 2.0-megapixel webcams are Logitech's QuickCam Pro 9000, the QuickCam Pro for Notebooks, or the QuickCam Orbit AF. They range in price from $99 to $129.
Raising Videoconferencing Bar
This VGA-quality resolution raises the bar for videoconference calls, with some observers describing it as DVD-quality. The offerings for high-quality video calls and conferencing have mostly been at the high-end, with relatively expensive "telepresence" products from HP and Cisco, or a $3,000 camera that shoots in 360 degrees as part of Microsoft's new Live Meeting.
This kind of low-cost, high-quality videoconferencing is now "very doable" technically, said Dan O'Connell, an analyst with industry research firm Gartner. But he added that a bigger question, which has haunted video calls from the beginning, is whether users actually want them.
O'Connell said that, for the most part, the answer is no. For businesses, he noted, it is useful if you're "doing an interview from the U.S. with, say, someone in Mexico or India," but in general "we're not seeing a large-scale adoption."
He added that video calls might be deployed more in residences than in businesses because of the high standards of presentation required for many business communications. Before making a video call from your office, O'Connell suggested, you might be concerned about whether the office appears presentable, whether you hair is combed, whether you desk looks clean.
For use in a home, the standards of presentation might not be quite as high if one wanted simply to talk to his or her best friend, for instance.
Good at Keeping Relationships
Henry Dewing, an analyst with Forrester, said that this perspective paints the enterprise picture "with too broad a brush." It depends on what the use is and who is using it, he said.
Younger workers are quite comfortable using video communications in many different casual settings, he noted. And, while "everyone wants to look their best for an interview," people are much less concerned with how they look during work collaborations.
"Even with just a postage-size video," he said, about half of all people will find that seeing the other person makes the communication better. Dewing said that, in essence, a video call can be iffy to establish a relationship, but good at keeping one going.
But the real "home run," he said, will be when Grandma can use her remote control to see a video call from her grandchild on her TV. We're not quite there yet, Dewing noted, but said that could be the new future.