• United States

Ojo videophone looks great, but issues remain

Dec 05, 20055 mins

The Motorola Ojo videophone is like a super model: stunning but temperamental. But once the videophone wow factor cools down and you get used to the looks, will it fit comfortably into your everyday life?

Most super models don’t, and the Ojo probably won’t either.Consider this a second-generation videophone. It’s a big improvement over Webcams with headsets, first-generation phones with half-speed, jerky video and the need to hold the phone handset to your face to talk.

The Ojo sends full-motion video at 30 frame/sec, as opposed to 15 frame/sec or slower as seen with earlier videophones. This model also has a decent speakerphone. The portrait screen orientation works great for faces, especially when compared with the landscape format on other phones.Unfortunately, this comes with a high price tag. Each Ojo device costs $800, a super-model fee in a world of subsidized cell phones and videophone hardware. Motorola also charges a monthly fee to manage the connection link database between phone users.


The User Guide and Quick Start Guide make installation look simple, and it was. Just plug the Ojo into a router and start making calls. The Ojo grabs an IP address from the router (you can assign an address if you choose). When you dial another Ojo device, the unit connects to a Motorola server that handles the Session Initiation Protocol connection, finds the target device and starts a streaming video call.

By default, recipients must press a button to activate their video camera, which prevents any awkward “jumping out of the shower” scenario for video calls. Most consumer routers allow the Ojo connect, but not all. Our Linksys WRT54GP2 device (the Vonage-enabled model for VoIP use) worked great. Two new Netgear models didn’t work, nor did a Zyxel Prestige 334. The WBR-G54 wireless broadband router from Buffalo did work. Motorola says an upcoming operating system upgrade will fix most of these problems (tech support only promised soon, so it may be available as you read this). 

A network administrator can open firewall ports to accommodate the Ojo protocol requirements (if these devices are used at work), but consumers won’t be comfortable doing so, even if their low-end routers allow such configuration. We also were disappointed that Motorola didn’t recommend any known good routers on its Web site.

Using Ojo

Once connected, Ojo does many things right. The screen’s portrait mode (6- by 3.25-inches) is perfect for looking at faces. During a call, the screen shows a small image of how you look underneath the larger image of the person you’re calling. This makes it simple to stay in the frame and see how you look to the other person. Controls and the phone’s dial pad are on a cordless handset, which includes three custom buttons (talk, mute and end), along with a select button inside a four-way cursor ring. If you connect the Ojo to a normal telephone line, you can use the cordless handset like any cordless phone, or use the complete unit as a speakerphone.

After entering the other Ojo number into the phone book database, connecting requires one click of the talk button and the call will start fairly quickly. Motorola uses several authentication servers at several data centers to ensure service. The speaker in the base provides better sound over a broadband connection than the speakerphone over a telephone line. Movements, even with rapid hand gestures, look natural, if somewhat slowed by either the video or LCD screen latency.

Users can choose three levels of bandwidth – 100K, 150K and 250K bit/sec, both upstream and downstream. Obviously, more bandwidth gives better results. All cable ISPs, and most DSL providers, can support these bandwidth requirements.


The Ojo operating system could use some improvements. The phone book entries work like a cell phone, requiring to type letters with the numeric pad, then moving from field to field via the cursor ring. Entries are displayed so large that you can only see four on a screen. Of course, you can only call other Ojo users via video, so you probably won’t have a long video phone book list.

While the image of the local caller is crystal clear, the person being called always seemed fuzzy. Cleaning the camera lens didn’t help, because the problem is how the Ojo handles transmitted video resolution vs. the display resolution. The screen resolution is 480 by 854 pixels, but the frame with the recipient is about 480 by 640 or so. Ojo transmits only 176 by 144 pixels (the Quarter Common Intermediate Format), and interpolates the rest of the screen pixels. This lets Ojo maintain a 30-frame/sec rate, but considerably reduces the image quality.

Sometimes the select key would activate the phone (when dialing a number), but sometimes it didn’t (when we tried to highlight a number in the phone book). Consistency would be nice and less confusing. Motorola says the Ojo upgrade will include a screen saver, which would relieve the user of having to look at an oddly disconcerting large blank LCD.

Our biggest complaint is Ojo’s inability to connect to any other brand of videophone. Until these units become interoperable, the market remains small.

Distant memory

Last year, Texas Instruments released a new generation of Digital Signal Processing chips with abilities far beyond the chips inside the Ojo and other current videophones. We’ll start seeing third-generation videophones this year, perhaps in time for the holidays. When broadband phone service providers team with new generation videophones and subsidize the hardware purchase price like cell phone carriers do, this version of the Ojo will be an aging super model everyone quickly forgets.

Gaskin can be reached at