SAN FRANCISCO -- Videophones represent a long-promised improvement in communications, and a crop of new products aimed at the home market are making big leaps in ease of use.
We looked at two: one engineered for broadband Internet and another that works with regular phones. And while we had fun in bicoastal conference calls, the video and sound performance was spotty.
Vialta's Beamer and D-Link's i2eye DVC-1000 both retail for $299 per unit, or two for $499. The Beamer has an immediate disadvantage: It connects through a traditional phone, so you pay applicable phone charges. The i2eye relies on a high-speed Internet connection you're already paying for.
The Beamer is stylish -- an 8-inch-high acrylic frame surrounds a 3.5-inch LCD display, and a small camera lens is positioned just above the screen.
Installing the Beamer involves plugging the power adaptor and a phone line into the back of the unit. Your home phone then plugs into a second jack on the unit and you're ready to go.
I picked up the phone to call my fellow tester. When he answered, my unit announced in the handset that "Beamer is now preparing the video for your call."
It took about 30 seconds to establish our video connection.
The resolution (600 by 234 pixels at its best, but generally lower) was acceptable, if not crystal clear. The colors were accurate, but this still isn't the type of device a family will gather around regularly to wave to Grandma. The image is just too grainy and small.
D-Link's i2eye operates on a different standard, making it a glorified broadband Web cam. The unit is 8 inches wide and less than 2 inches tall, making it a nice fit atop the television I used to test the device. The i2eye does not have its own screen like the Beamer.
I strung Ethernet cable from my router to the i2eye and connected a phone to the unit. Video and audio cables strung to common RCA plug inputs on the back of my TV completed the connections.
D-Link's tech support talked me through getting my router to communicate with the i2eye unit. This can be somewhat complicated and involves opening up a dedicated gate through your firewall.
The on-screen instructions are then simple.
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