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Next best thing to being there.

Video-conferencing has finally come of age as a strategic business tool. By offering complete audio and visual communication with anyone, anytime and almost anywhere in the world, video-conferencing fills a growing need for effective long-distance meetings. Despite other technological advances in business communications, most companies still require meetings.

Until now, getting several people to meet who were from different locations meant flying everyone out to the corporate headquarters. However, video-conferencing reduces business travel--a major cost to any organization. A 30-minute conference between a New York and San Francisco office, for instance, can range from $20 to $40 versus $700 for a plane ticket for just one person.

Another benefit of video-conferencing is that it keeps information timely and accurate. Using the two-way transmission of digitized video images, employees at different work sites can see and hear each other as well as exchange data documents and graphics. Moreover, many business managers are using video-conferencing to improve productivity and quality. For example, several companies are using video-conferencing to keep tabs on suppliers, as well as interviewing job candidates.

According to Al Lill, an analyst for The Gartner Group, a market research firm in Stamford, Conn., in 1990, video-conferencing equipment sales hit $90 million. Those sales are expected to reach $160 million in 1991 and predicted to top $330 million in 1993. By 1995, industry analysts predict these systems will become as commonplace as the fax machine.

Video-conferencing isn't a new contrivance, of course. Few folks may recall the picturephone--the brainchild of AT&T in the early '60s--which mimicked the space-age gadget used by George Jetson. Using this device, the caller could hear, see and speak to the party on the other end.

Video-conferencing traditionally was an expensive method of communication implemented by large corporations at limited locations and solely for interdepartmental use. Specially equipped rooms were once as costly as several hundred thousand dollars per room. Transmission costs alone were as much as $2,000 per hour.

Now the cost of a coast-to-coast video-conference call on a digital network is less than $20 an hour. And the price of some video-conferencing equipment has fallen from the $40,000 to $80,000 range to $20,000. This is due largely to breakthroughs in software and hardware integration, lower cost of transmission and the emergence of an international standard for interactive video.

Today, the leading suppliers of video-conferencing equipment in the United States are PictureTel Corp. in Peabody, Mass.; Compression Labs Inc. (CLI) in San Jose, Calif., and VideoTelecom Corp. in Austin, Texas. These vendors have dominated the market in both low and high bandwidth video codecs.

The video codec (coder/decoder), the core component, is a specialized device that sends a compressed video signal over a dial-up digital telephone line. A receiving codec then decompresses the signal to display it. Improvements in compression techniques give users lower transmission rates, which results in lower overall costs. PictureTel Corp. has captured over 50% of the market for low-data rates.

The company's complete family of dial-up systems includes the System 4000, V-3100, C-3000 and M-8000 multipoint bridge, which accommodates up to 16 users and eight concurrent meetings. But the other vendors also offer multipoint and point-to-point conferencing, allowing multiple sites to be linked using dedicated, switched or satellite dial-up digital networks.

Though codecs are important, video-conferencing is more than that. The major vendors offer enhanced features, such as annotation of graphics, document handling and interfaces for input devices.

Video Telecom's Benchmark Series offers a media-teleconferencing solution. The MediaMax 386 has a built-in 16 MHz IBM PC/AT-compatible board with a 40 M hard drive and 4 M of memory. It also includes interfaces for a fax, printers, telephones and other peripheral devices. CLI is the only vendor that provides a picture-within-a-picture option and can convert between North American and European television standards.

Instead of spending $400,000 per site for custom-built video-conferencing rooms, vendors are offering integrated roll-about consoles that contain the codecs, monitors, cameras and other video equipment. Pricing for some systems range from $45,000 to $55,000.

Moreover, the video codec manufacturers have developed strategic alliances with the telephone companies and telecos, who are working hard to put in digital lines throughout their service areas (i.e., Switch 56, ACCUNET) in order to accommodate video. The vendors supply the equipment, and the telephone companies provide the access. AT&T offers the Skynet Video-conferencing Service. You have to order a special access line from your local carrier, and it takes 30 to 45 days to get the system up and running.

Office managers who like to call frequent meetings, but want to keep travel expenses in line are finding that video-conferencing is the next best thing to being there.

TECH TIPS

Picture this: Instead of reading a how-to book on taking photographs, you could practice right on your television screen by simply pushing a few buttons on a remote control. Or you could actually have your favorite family photos displayed for viewing on your TV.

With the first Compact Disc Interactive (CDI) player from Phillips Consumer Electronics Co., multimedia is making its way into the home education, information and entertainment environment. The Los Angeles-based company's new system--the CDI910--combines the audio quality of a compact disc with video, text, graphics, animation and interactive capabilities.

Similar to the look, design and operation of a standard audio CD player, the CDI910 connects directly to any TV and stereo system and uses a standard 5-inch CDI optical disc (with 650 MB).

This innovative technology allows users to control the information or entertainment they receive, determine the sequence of the presentation, and ask questions and get immediate answers. Using a thumbstick remote control, or an optional joystick or mouse, users can dictate the action on their televisions. This is accomplished by pointing to and clicking on command areas on the screen marked by either words or symbols.

The CDI910 is also designed to play CD-Digital audio discs in both 3-inch single and 5-inch album formats. Moreover, several manufacturers have produced a wide range of CD interactive program categories including children, music, history, language, games and special interest.

The CDI910 suggested manufacturers' retail price is $1,000.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:videoconferencing
Author:Brown, Carolyn M.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Words:1027
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