• United States

A look at Motion Media’s videophone

Sep 17, 20035 mins
Data Center

Motion Media was nice enough to lend Network World a couple of its cool looking mm745 videophones (see photo) to test out. We kept one unit here in our offices in Massachusetts and sent the other unit across the country to Christine Perey (a member of our Test Alliance and head of Perey Research and Consulting) in California. My unit sat outside the Network World firewall and was connected to our regular T-1 line everyone uses to connect to the ‘Net. Christine had her unit connected to WireOne’s Glowpoint network, which is dedicated to video traffic.

Before I get to my opinions on the product a few technical specs on the desktop device. The mm745 is H.323 compatible and can be used for video and voice-over-IP calls. If you have a traditional PSTN phone in your office, you won’t be able to replace it with this device. It’s also got a built in Web browser. The units we tested came with a 12″ flat touchscreen display (a nice touch, no pun intended), a wireless keyboard and a wired mouse. An embedded Equator and PowerPC chip provide the horsepower for the audio/video processing and drive the built-in applications (browser, directory et al). The mm745 supports the G.711a and G.722 audio protocols and the H.263 video compression standard. (A future H.264 upgrade would be an excellent stop on the product roadmap.) If you want to learn more, go here.

The physical setup of the device is easy. Plug in the mouse, power cord and Ethernet cable and you’re good to go. As with a traditional phone there is no power button, once the thing is plugged in, it’s always on. But unlike a phone, this device sometimes needs to be rebooted via power cycling (turn off, wait, turn back on). Here’s where a simple power switch would be nice. As part of the initial setup, the folks at Motion Media told us to download a firmware upgrade. This was done using the integrated browser to go to the company’s Web site and download the appropriate file, as you would do on a standard PC. That was not much of an issue. The only real problems with the setup came with the data entry. While the little keyboard is nice (though only one shift key takes getting used to), the user interface can be a little clunky. In Windows, when entering an IP address into a configuration box, the cursor automatically jumps to the next set of three numbers or you can use the tab key. It’s not as intuitive on the mm745. My suggestion to Motion Media would be to make it more like Windows in this sense. Thankfully, you should only have to set it up once, so this shouldn’t be that much of an issue. Overall, setup time was about a half hour, including the download of the update and configuration.

Another negative on the device is the speed of the applications and the integrated browser. Christine sums it up perfectly:

In general this system is very attractive from an industrial design point of view but suffers from a very, very slow processor or low RAM. It’s “under powered” but very easy to look at when not in use!

The slowness deals more with the browsing and applications than the actual videoconferencing quality. The browser is only “single pane” so it cannot handle pop-ups. If you visit a site with pop-ups, you may only get the pop-up window’s content and not what’s underneath. Also, if in a conference, you cannot surf the Web with the integrated browser at the same time. Supporting pop-ups and being able to toggle between the video window and a browser window would be a great product enhancement.

As for the call setup and quality, I give the device a thumbs up. The tiny video camera delivers a good quality image and the echo cancellation on the audio is great. Because of the way the Glowpoint network is setup, Christine had to dial me. Being able to accept a call with the touchscreen is a option. We were connected at 384K bit/sec, more than enough for a talking-head video call. Motion Media says the mm745 can connect anywhere from 128K bit/sec to 2M bit/sec. We even connected between my mm745 and Christine’s Polycom ViewStation FX and it worked perfectly (so it is H.323 compliant!). A three-way call between Christine, myself and third-party at WireOne did not work as well. My video unit was only sending a couple frames per second. This probably has more to do with my network connection than the device itself.

The only other annoyance that I found was hanging up. There’s no obvious button for hanging up gracefully. You can quickly lift and set down the phone receiver. We also accidentally found out that hitting the speaker button can do the same thing. On a few occassions, Christine’s unit hung when the call ended abruptly, though my unit never failed.

Overall, I did like the mm745. I’d recommend it for those that need a desktop conferencing unit and do not have a lot of space. As with most videoconferencing appliances, I would recommend a dedicated network if you’re doing a lot of inter-office communications with clients and partners. Using most two-way video products across the public Internet can be a dicey affair. The price of the unit we tested is $3,800. A non-touchscreen model is available for $3,000.