No rocket science here

Videoconferencing not as difficult as some think

To believe a certain series of television commercials designed to promote a "videoconference phone," setting up a full-blown videoconference is about as easy as planning a trip to Neptune. In fact, the same IP communications that let a telephone-maker add a conferencing feature is letting mainstream videoconferencing companies put their systems within easy reach.

Whether its because users have restrictions on travel, need to be in too many places in a single day, or just want more face-to-face communication, videoconferencing equipment is selling. And desktop configurations are proving to be as popular as the big box for conference rooms, according to people in the industry.

The Defense Department is leading the way in the government market as videoconferencing is used more to pull in data from the field and disseminate it. This means video must be available on a variety of connections, even cell phones. Ultimately, this will lead to a shift from Integrated Services Digital Network lines to IP-based communications.

On the civilian side, the gradual move toward telecommuting could make desktop videoconferencing more important.

Along with IP, other technological advances have made videoconferencing more attractive and affordable. Technological changes, such as the shift from television tubes to flat-screen, liquid crystal displays and plasma displays, also are helping the growth of desktop videoconferencing.

Prices are dropping, too. But return on investment and doing more with less also are important, according to experts. Much of that will involve video from the desktop, where small cameras already are appearing. Integrated with its $200-per-seat proprietary software, Polycom's PVX product turns that camera into a collaborative solution.

Last June, Sony rolled out the PCS-TL50, a 20-inch, $4,995 LCD product that includes a built-in pan-tilt-zoom video camera, microphone and video codec. It doubles as a PC monitor ? albeit one that commands a price premium for its extra features.

Mark Kellner is a freelance technology writer in Rockville, Md. E-mail him at mark@kellner.us.

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