Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Video Phone Has Finally Arrived

I knew that the age of the video phone was upon us when I saw Jack and Sydney Bristow using the very Packe8 VideoPhone that we sell as agents. Telecom agents, that is. We are in no way related to that Sloan character and I haven't built a Rimbauldi device since the high school science fair. Just kidding. It was a computer that played tic-tac-toe. Anyway...

Now that the secret is out, you should see just how far video telephones have come since Bell Telephone Laboratories introduced PicturePhone service at the 1964 World's fair. Back then, they needed very specialized and expensive telephone lines conditioned for high speed. Today that's called DSL, but this was pre-Internet.

Other attempts at picture telephones tried to squeeze an elephant's worth of video data down the soda straw of standard telephone service. The end result was either a few still pictures or incredibly fuzzy and jerky video.

What makes today's VideoPhone service work so well that it's being used on high tech thriller shows is the spread of residential and business broadband combined with the technologies of VoIP and digital camcorders. Packet8 has taken a VoIP speakerphone and added a webcam plus a 5 inch full color screen to make an all-in-one unit. You plug it into your router (DSL or Cable modem if you aren't using a router), pick up the handset and make calls. When someone with another VideoPhone answers, the screen lights up with their picture. Not just a still picture either. This is full motion video that looks almost a good as TV.

How much to join the video telephone revolution? About $500 for the VideoPhone and $29.95 a month for both video and regular telephone local and long distance calling. At this writing, you can still get a rebate for half the cost of the phone. That means it will run you $250 plus a $29.95 activation fee. Go ahead, buy two. Keep one and give the other to your parents, grandparents, best friend or business colleague. Whatever you do, don't sent it to Irina Derevko. I have a sinking feeling that she'll be popping up on somebody's VideoPhone screen soon enough.

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