High-Def Conferencing At A Low Price - InformationWeek
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Mike Fratto
Mike Fratto
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High-Def Conferencing At A Low Price

LifeSize makes high-definition videoconferencing usable and affordable for small companies.

When viable videoconferencing technology arrived on the scene some eight years ago, vendors heralded "the end of business travel." That didn't happen, mainly because poor audio and video performance combined with high prices made early conferencing systems poor substitutes for face-to-face meetings.

But now, as rising energy prices hike travel costs and cut into the bottom line, companies are taking another look at videoconferencing, and many are liking what they see. New codecs, which enable high-definition video to be sent even over limited broadband connections, have greatly improved the quality of videoconferencing systems. Even better news, particularly for small and midsize enterprises, is that high-definition videoconferencing systems have become increasingly affordable. Previously, HD videoconferencing, or telepresence, was possible only with room-based systems from companies such as Cisco and Hewlett-Packard. These cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, putting them well out of reach of most SMEs.

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LifeSize Communications recently introduced its Express line, designed to make HD videoconferencing affordable to a wider swath of companies. With systems from $4,999 and acceptable performance, the company has achieved that goal.

Express provides good quality videoconferencing for the price, but it has problems when there's a lot of motion in the video frame. Communication also becomes choppy when packets are lost and when the system encounters latency.

Find out how to make videoconferencing work.
Express comes in two models: a $5,999 edition with a pan, tilt, and zoom camera, and a $4,999 version with a fixed camera, called Focus. By comparison, Polycom's HDX 7000 lists for $9,499 and sports a few more inputs and outputs, as well as advanced options for connectivity and performance enhancements. Sony's PCSG50, a standard-definition videoconferencing system, lists for $5,800.

Both Express systems use the same low-profile appliance that handles audio/video encoding and transmission. The whole setup is designed to be portable and can fit into a briefcase. Video is transmitted at 720-pixel (1,280 by 720, progressive scan) resolution at a rate of 30 frames per second on a scant 1 Mbps of bandwidth. At up to 2 Mbps, the resolution stays the same, but the codec uses the extra bandwidth to better handle motion in the video frame.

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