Cisco unveils Google chat-compatible video conferencing product for HDTVs

Cisco Umi Telepresence

Network hardware company Cisco today introduced umi telepresence, its first HD video conferencing product designed for consumer televisions.

Consumers now have access to the TelePresence technology humorously product-placed on NBC's 30 Rock last year; Cisco umi includes an HD camera and a broadband-connected console that users hook up to their television. Once the unit is connected, they can then make video calls to other umi users or Google video chat users, record video postcards for Facebook and YouTube, or manage contact lists and profiles via remote control. When users receive a video call or message when they're away from their TV, they can receive text message alerts that a video message awaits them. Video messages can be checked on remote PCs as well as on the console.

Unfortunately, with high definition video conferencing comes two drawbacks: high bandwidth requirements, and a high price.

Verizon has been testing the service over its FiOS network, and expects to launch it to consumers when the devices ship later this year.

"We plan to be the first service provider to offer Cisco umi to our customers, delivering an amazingly clear and lifelike experience that brings family and friends into your living room," said Eric Bruno, vice president, of consumer product management at Verizon today.

Market Research firm Strategy Analytics today said the live video chat requires broadband with a minimum upload speed of 1.5Mbps, which only about one-third of US households currently have.

As for price, Cisco says it will cost $599 for the unit, and carry a monthly fee of $24.99 for unlimited umi calls, video messaging and video storage. Umi is available for pre-order today directly from Cisco, and will be available through bestbuy.com on October 18, with general availability on November 14.

"While video calling is the most obvious application, its utility is very limited," said Ben Piper, Service Director at Strategy Analytics. "We see an opportunity for Cisco to team with private industry to position umi as a business to consumer offering, subsidized by Financial Services, Health Care, Retail, and Education. That's when we'll see the really exciting applications start to surface, and the network's 'critical mass' begin to evolve."

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