Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Broadband Video Phones Make Video Conferencing Cheap and Easy

There are two things we were promised in the future and never got: flying cars and video telephones. Well, it's still going to be awhile before your Subaru soars. The good news is that the videophone is finally here and practical for everybody.

Yeah, I know. Video conferencing has been around for years. The type we're used to is a huge and grotesquely expensive "professional grade" system found in corporate conference rooms. Many times all you get are fuzzy pictures with jerky movements. At the low end, you can buy a webcam that looks (and works) like an eyeball. Plug it into your PC, load the conferencing software, fiddle with it awhile, and you're video conferencing while you're online. Neat, but too inconvenient for most of us.

What I'm talking about is something brand new. This is a regular looking phone with a five inch color flat screen monitor. You just dial someone who has the same type of phone and up pops picture and sound at both ends of the call. Finally, something so simple that grandma can call up and see the kids any time the notion strikes. It's good quality too. Full motion video at 30 frames a second that's almost good enough to make you think you're on TV. Oh, yeah, you do have the option to turn off the camera if you get one of those awkward early calls when you still have your scary morning look.

What's finally made video phones practical is technology borrowed from the camcorder industry combined with home broadband Internet service. Forget dial-up. Earlier attempts at sending video over dial-up Internet or regular telephone lines never went anywhere because there just isn't enough bandwidth on those lines to carry quality video. Now that almost a third of us have DSL or Cable Internet, home and small business videoconferencing's time has come.

Think of all the neat ways you could use one of these phones. New baby in the family? Call up your folks and friends and show them the new arrival. Plug your video camera or VCR in the back of the phone and you can play tapes you recorded earlier. Same goes for birthday parties, anniversaries, weddings, holidays and other occasions. This is about as close to being there in person as you can get right now. On a business trip? No problem. Take the videophone along and plug it into the hotel room's broadband. You can see what's happening at home and you won't be paying those outrageous hotel telephone rates either. When you call videophone to videophone with the same service via broadband Internet there are no charges beyond the regular monthly service fee.

So, it's expensive service, right? Nope. The service is $29.95 a month from Packet8 plus a one time $29.95 activation fee. That lets you make all the voice and video calls you want in the USA and Canada, and to other Packet8 subscribers worldwide with no extra charges. This includes all your regular telephone calls, not just video. The Packet8 Videophone is a VoIP telephone with added video capability that you can turn on and off whenever you like. If you make regular dial telephone calls to locations outside the USA and Canada there are additional per minute charges, but they're probably a lot less that you are paying now.

You'll also need to buy one or two Packet8 Videophones. They're $500 each, but there is a $250 limited time rebate running right now. Oh, be nice. Buy grandma one of these videophones and get another for yourself. She'll think you're the greatest son or daughter a mother could have. It'll also make up for not being able to jet on over in your flying flivver!

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