Video Phone Rides VoIP Wave

Those of you who have been waiting years for the George Jetson experience—home videoconferencing without tears—won’t have to wait much longer. Dallas-based Viseon Inc. has recently announced the imminent release of VisiFone, its first digital IP telephone system with full, “TV-quality” video.

Integral to the design is a full color TFT screen. Of the two announced models the smaller (with 5.6-inch screen) will release first, with the larger (10-inch screen) following sometime later. A CCD digital camera is mounted in the top of this unit and a handset—corded in the initial release, but slated to go cordless in later models—nestles against the right side of the unit, behind the edge of the screen.

Quality issues
J.D. de Haseth, President and CEO of ViseonMedia (a subsidiary of Viseon Inc.) is quite proud of the audio quality that comes out of the speaker at the base of the fully duplex phone. “Compared to a standard analog phone, it’s like listening on a digital CD stereo instead of an AM radio,” he told Enterprise VoIP Planet.

We asked whether the video stream wouldn’t exacerbate the audio problems sometimes associated with VoIP—jitter, dropped packets, latency. “It’s really not chip issue or a bandwith issue,” De Haseth pointed out, “but more a network quality issue.” “The carriers are working to solve those problems,” he added. (The VisiFone uses Texas Instruments newest VoIP-phone-on-a-chip technology, which has circuitry to compensate for jitter and drop-out.)

Simple is good
Part of philosophy of VisiPhone is to keep things simple. “We don’t want to compete with the PC,” said de Haseth. The phone’s features have been designed for ease of use. One move in this direction was to integrate the analog/digital terminal adaptor into the VisiFone unit itself. No black box for users to mess with.

There’s also a phone-jack port into which users can plug a standard analog phone, allowing it to become part of the IP calling system. According to de Haseth, Viseon plans for later models to interact with the user’s phone network via wireless LAN and/or the building’s electric wiring.

Furthermore, the phone is service-provider neutral. It will work with Vonage, AT&T, Comcast, or any other VoIP provider.

Unphonelike features
VisiFone doesn’t just make audio and audio-video calls. It functions as an audio and video answering machine, as well. Furthermore, it receives and sends e-mail. While this last is not so un-PC-like as much of the rest of the VisiFone design, some users are bound to appreciate the feature. Typing outgoing emails is accomplished (in this inaugural design) via the handset. Other solutions are being considered for future revisions.

Another integral part of the VisiFone concept is that of video and Internet content that users will be able to program for replay over the device. All such content will be supplied by Viseon, derived ultimately through partnerships with content providers such as cable operators, web portals, and the like.

“We expect that most content will be supplied free to subscribers,” de Haseth said, “with some premium items for pay.” Once a wide range of content partnerships is in place, he said, “customers will be able to do things like schedule a weather forecast or a traffic cam to be played at a specified time in the morning, before they leave for work.” Interaction with content providers will be facilitated with features like easy click-through dialing to information numbers, and the like.

Availability and price
The VisiFone will not be sold direct to users. Rather the company will distribute it through service-provider partners. Vonnage will be the first to offer the phone (again, the smaller, 5.6-inch model), some time around the end of June. Viseon won’t control pricing, but estimates the going price will be around $100.

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