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VCON unveils videoconferencing endpoints

Feb 12, 20043 mins
Collaboration SoftwareEnterprise ApplicationsSmall and Medium Business

After falling behind in the group videoconferencing arms race, VCON Wednesday announced two feature-packed endpoints, a PC-based multimedia system and a set-top box with build-in multipoint control unit and streaming ability, both branded under the “HD” family.

“We drifted behind in group systems the last couple years,” says Gordon Daugherty, chief marketing officer at VCON. “We put our effort into network systems and the rest of our portfolio. Now we’re doing some catch-up and even some leapfrogging.”

The HD5000, designed for multimedia-rich conferences, is based on a Windows XP PC, runs the newer H.264 video codecs at up to 1M bit/sec and supports native 16:9 video on plasma and LCD screens. Data can be shared with VCON’s DualStream system, which allows PC-based data (documents, spreadsheets, screen sharing) to be included alongside video. There’s also an optional laptop pod for bring in data from an external machine, plus a slot for connecting USB storage keys containing conference materials.

Other multimedia features include DVI outputs for connecting direct to plasma or LCD screen, meaning the video signal stays in a digital format from the endpoint to the monitor; the ability to play MP3 audio or AVI, Windows Media and MPEG video in a call; and six USB ports for connecting additional cameras.

The HD3000 is a traditional set-top videoconferencing appliance that can connect up to four other endpoints into a single call via its built-in MCU, plus stream the conference to 25 users at 384K bit/sec. There’s also an IP Multicast that allows a single stream coming out of the unit to serve all the users requesting it. Multicast, though, requires the entire network path (routers and switches) between source and receiver to be IP Multicast-enabled.

Daugherty says the first release of the HD3000 will only support H.263++ and not the newer H.264 standard, which allows video to be delivered at the same quality but half the bandwidth when compared to its predecessor H.263. H.264 will be available through a free upgrade slated for this summer.

Both the HD3000 and HD5000 have support for DualStream video, which is compatible with Tandberg’s DuoVideo technology. Polycom, the leader in the group videoconferencing market according to numbers from Wainhouse Research, has a similar feature called People+Content that is not compatible. However, a new standard dubbed H.239 should bring compatibility to all three vendors’ offerings.

“We’re all working on H.239,” Daugherty says. “We’ll have it in the next release; so will everyone else. That’ll make it all nice and neat again in the industry. We just had to pick one now, so we went with Tandberg. We’ll all be compatible with H.239.”

VCON will begin shipping both units in March. The HD5000 is priced at $10,000 for an IP-only base model. A top-of-the-line HD5000 is $13,500 and includes the laptop pod and ISDN support. The HF3000 is IP-only and available for $5,000.