You get home from work but have to talk to business team members in Japan. Rather than a phone call, you "meet" with them through the high-definition TV in your living room.
That scenario could become commonplace if a new telepresence product for the home announced Wednesday by Cisco catches on. The San Jose, Calif.-based company said the new product, called umi telepresence, is a first-of-its kind offering.
'Delivery of New Services'
The new product connects to an existing HD television and a broadband Internet connection, either wired or wireless, and includes a console and remote control.
CEO John Chambers said his company envisions "a future where technologies like this will play a role in connecting consumers with businesses to enable the delivery of new services," including education, health care, and financial services. For consumers, the company noted, obvious uses include singing happy birthday to relatives or sharing bedtime stories for children with their grandparents.
The video-communications experience, Cisco said, is "so clear, natural and lifelike that users will see and hear their loved ones, right down to the twinkle in their eyes and the tone of their voices, as if they were in the same room." Settings are automatically adjusted to the lighting conditions and size of a given room to optimize audio and video performance.
Through umi, users can make video calls, check video messages, manage contacts, customize profiles or settings, or record videos, which can then be shared on Facebook, YouTube or sent by e-mail. Users can also talk to others who don't have the umi setup but who use a webcam with a computer and Google video chat. A video greeting can be personalized, including not only original video but ringtones.
Verizon, Best Buy
When a new video message arrives, a text message can be sent to a mobile phone. Users can pan, zoom or pull back with the remote. For those concerned about whether living room-based video conferencing could reveal a bit too much of home life, the camera shutter closes and call screening or blocking is included.
On the drawing board, Cisco is planning to bring umi telepresence to Verizon's FiOS customers by sometime early in 2011. Trials over Verizon's fiber-optic network are being conducted. The company is also expecting to offer umi through Best Buy's Magnolia Home Theater stores in time for the holiday season. The suggested retail price is $599, with a $24.99 monthly fee for unlimited use.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Corp., said the new product could be used for business as well as consumer purposes. The Cisco branding, she said, certainly gives it credibility on the technology side that could help its adoption for non-consumer uses. She added it appears that "telepresence technologies are going to become more and more of a business tool" than they already are.