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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Creative Banks On Affordable Video Conferencing System

InnoMedia chairman and chief executive Ng Kai Wa
InnoMedia chairman and chief executive Ng Kai Wa and Mr McHugh with Creative's latest offering, the inPerson video phone, a video conferencing solution that they hope will be the company's third big hit.

CREATIVE Technology is betting that its new "inPerson" video conferencing solution will be its third big hit after its sound card and MP3 player successes - but experts here are raising their eyebrows.

The company is hoping that business users will go for its $1,200 system instead of more expensive ones that sell for tens of thousands of dollars from companies such as Polycom, Tandberg and Cisco.

Mr Craig McHugh, the president of Creative Labs, the firm's United States arm, said the device has even greater potential than its Sound Blaster cards 'and Zen MP3 players.

"This may not be the first in the market, but we believe there has never been something like this in terms of features and price," he added.

But its Achilles' heel may be its inability, for now, to connect to the enterprise-grade systems that are widely used in the boardrooms 0 most multinational companies.

An industry veteran with over 15 years' experience said: "Most large enterprises today already have high-end video conferencing systems.

"If Creative is trying to provide an alternative, it must first be able to inter-operate with the very same systems it is competing against."

Unlike the Polycoms and Tandbergs, which allow users of different systems to connect ,to each other by keying in the respective Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, inPerson is a closed system. Users can connect only with fellow users and only up to four at a time.

There is also limited one-to-one connectivity with Web users on standard webcams.

Although Creative plans to launch inPerson in 10 countries by year-end, so far, it has announced availability in two countries only - the US and Singapore.

Mr Foong King Yew, a research director with research firm Gartner Asia-Pacific, said that for inPerson to take off, it needs to have an international network.

"I don't see the value of Singapore users connecting to other Singapore users over a $1,200 device," he said.

Vice-president for Asia-Pacific research at IDC Sandra Ng said quality and price are the two main factors that determine the success of any video conferencing solution.

"Video conferencing's greatest competitor is face-to-face, and any solution must be able to come as close as possible to the real thing," said Ms Ng.

All three experts agree that the $1,200 price point seems to be a little high for small and medium-sized businesses.

The device was launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

The video phone, which is the size of a paperback novel, sports a built-in seven-inch screen. It offers wired and Wi-Fi connectivity plus TV-out capability, so users can output video and audio to larger displays.

Users in Singapore will be charged a $25 monthly service fee by Creative's partnerInternet service provider QMax. They also have to sign up for a minimum of 24 months with QMax, in which Creative has a minority stake.

Pros and cons
Simplicity in set-up and use: Just plug your LAN or local area network line into the LAN port. Key in the inPerson number of the party you are video calling and, voila, you are connected.

Portability: inPerson offers Wi-Fi connectivity, so you can bring it with you to hotspots like Starbucks and McDonald's.

Competitive pricing: The phone itself, costs $1,200, but you also have to pay a monthly $25 service fee for one-to-one conferencing.

Multi-conferencing capability: You can connect with up to four otber inPerson users simultaneously and even call regular phone lines, but both services are charged on a pay-per-use basis.

Availability: Currently, the inPerson service is available in the US and Singapore only, but Creative plans to extend it to 10 countries by year-end.

The $25 fee is for one-to-one conferencing only. From next month, users will be able to hold conversations with up to four users as well as make calls to phone lines. But both services will carry additional pay-per-use charges.

Creative is also linking up with Internet phone service provider InnoMedia as its global technology partner to manage the back-end servers that manage and route the video calls.

InnoMedia chairman and chief executive Ng Kai Wa is one of Creative's co-founders and still sits on its board of directors.

via Straits Times

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