Vendors display new ISDN-based products, distance-learning products

Philips Electronics announced its entry into the videoconferencing market earlier this month with a series of new products that will be available on the General Services Administration schedule.

The company demonstrated the products at the TeleCon East 1998 conference in Washington, D.C. Other announcements made at the conference focused on a new Integrated Services Digital Network video gateway from Objective Communications Inc. and a "virtual classroom" distance-learning system from White Pine Software Inc.

Philips introduced three videoconferencing systems, each geared toward a different level of video and audio quality and all available next month. Mabel Mangnus, director of product marketing at Philips, said the company's MatchView 430, listed at $8,495, supports videoconferences at up to 384 kilobits/sec and three ISDN connections. The system includes a camera, a codec— for compressing and decompressing images for transmission— and a microphone, and the system is recommended for applications, such as telemedicine, that require high-quality video, she said.

The spokeswoman said the 430 system costs much less than comparable 384 kilobits/sec products that may be priced as high as $20,000. She said the low price is part of Philips' strategy to attract new customers. "We want to sell at high volumes," she said.

The MatchView 330 supports a single ISDN connection at 128 kilobits/sec but can be upgraded to three ISDN interfaces operating at 384 kilobits/sec. The spokeswoman said the 330, which will sell commercially for $5,495, is geared toward small organizations or home offices.

At the low end, the MatchView 230 supports one ISDN connection at 128 kilobits/sec and is priced at $2,995. Unlike the 330, it cannot be upgraded to support higher transmission rates.

According to the spokeswoman, Philips delayed its entry into the videoconferencing market because company officials did not believe the market was mature until now. "We believe that this market will become very big in a few years," she said. "It's still not booming yet. But we hope now, as networks are better and standards are in place and prices are dropping, that these factors might stimulate the demand for videoconferencing."

She added that Philips is looking to integrate the technology into its other products, such as TVs and mobile phones.

Elsewhere at the conference, Objective Communications, Portsmouth, N.H., announced the availability of its new H.320 ISDN Gateway2, which allows any user of the company's VidPhone switching technology to call other VidPhone users over ISDN connections. Company president Steven Rogers said a single codec supports about 10 users at 128 or 384 kilobits/sec and costs $27,000.

"To get quality that high to the desktop would traditionally cost between $10,000 and $20,000 per seat," Rogers said. "But using this, [desktops] can share the codec technology. And you don't have to pull a lot of ISDN lines to the desktop. You only need to run ISDN lines to the phone room and plug them in."

Rogers added that the new codecs, like other Objective Communications products, will be available on the Defense Department's Telecommunications Modernization Project contract, held by Bell Atlantic Federal Systems.

White Pine said it has combined its CU-SeeMe Internet videoconferencing software with its MeetingPoint Conference Server product to create its new ClassPoint distance-learning system.

Tanya Prather, director of marketing communications at White Pine, said ClassPoint provides real-time audio and video over a World Wide Web browser interface that allows users with instructor privileges to control what the class sees and to choose which users are "granted the spotlight." The system also permits instructors to run quizzes and view any or all of up to 12 students' video images simultaneously.

Under a temporary promotion, White Pine will sell the system at a discount, beginning at $995 for a five-user version.

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