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Product Reviews

March 2000

InfoAccel

InnoMedia, Inc.
90 Rio Robles, Ste. 100
San Jose, CA 95134
Ph: 408-432-5400;
Fx: 408-432-5404
Web site: www.innomedia.com

Price: $99.95

Editor's Choice Award

RATINGS (0-5)
Installation: 4.75
Documentation: 4
Features: 4.5
GUI: 4.25
Overall: A-


InnoMedia's InfoAccel works with any Internet connection available, including a dialup connection, a LAN network, a cable modem, or a DSL connection, so that Voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls can be made over the Internet. If the PC you are calling has an InfoAccel plug-and-play PCI card installed, that call has no cost associated with it. If there is no answer, a voice email can be sent to that InfoAccel user and played with the voice email player. If the person you are calling does not have an InfoAccel card, you can use InnoSphere, which employs Innomedia's gateways to connect to non-InfoAccel users. InnoSphere calls can be made at a relatively inexpensive price. 

While any of these calls can be made over a regular phone, you can also use InfoAccel's control panel graphical interface to place these calls. The GUI also adds other features, such as providing a global address book and speed-dial buttons, to organize and to place calls easily.

INSTALLATION
To make VoIP calls exclusively in the labs, we set up two Windows 98 PCs equipped with InfoAccel PCI cards. First, we installed the cards, which should always be in place before installing the software. This procedure was like placing any card into a PCI slot, so it presented no problems.

Since our LAN is behind a firewall, we had to use a dialup connection to perform our tests. We originally used the traditional Windows 98 method of dialing our ISP, and we noticed that the information was registered in InfoAccel's control panel GUI. This feature allowed us to place or hang up a call to our ISP directly from the GUI, utilizing Windows dialup networking.

Because we happened to have enough analog lines available, we connected a line from both our modems and InfoAccel cards to our available phone jacks to use InfoAccel with separate modem and voice lines. We also tried sharing a voice/modem line by connecting a cable from the line port on the InfoAccel card to the phone port on our modems. Both methods worked, but we decided to use the two extra analog lines (for both cards). This allowed us to make regular phone calls while connected to the Internet. We also connected an analog phone to the phone ports on each InfoAccel card.

The driver and software installations were very straightforward. We easily installed the driver, and then the control panel software. After that was finished, a user information window automatically appeared. We entered all of the critical information we would need to test InfoAccel: A name, a phone number to use in case no one answered the InfoAccel call, InnoSphere user information, and e-mail server configuration information (used for receiving and sending voice email). The IP address was automatically added when we established a dialup connection.

DOCUMENTATION
InfoAccel comes with a user's guide that is less than fifty pages long and looks more like a stapled pamphlet than a manual. However, except for the absence of an index, the user's guide gives you what you want in a guide: Concise and understandable information with a considerable number of screenshots included.

The biggest problem with the documentation is the help files within the GUI - there is almost a complete lack of them. There is a help menu, but it only provides an "About InfoAccel" option with a link to a marketing Web page on InnoSphere. That provides little help in understanding how to use the product. We also must note that we noticed a few typos within the GUIs (control panel and voice email player).

FEATURES
Among InfoAccel users, free global VoIP calling is the main feature. You can also call to any phone in more than 200 countries using InnoSphere. While you are talking, you can surf the Internet without necessarily using a second phone line (you can share a voice/modem line). While logged onto the Internet, you can place and receive calls (although you can receive calls only from other InfoAccel users). Built-in voice email to and from other InfoAccel users is also included.

OPERATIONAL TESTING
As soon as both of our PCs were set up, we attempted to make a VoIP call. Unfortunately, one of our PCs froze before being able to do so. First, we just rebooted the computer by turning it off and back on (since both the mouse and the keyboard were frozen), but the PC still froze moments after it booted up. We then shut down the computer, took out the InfoAccel PCI card, and started the computer again. The PC did not freeze, even after waiting a while and using it.

Now suspecting the card, we placed it back into the same PCI slot. Sure enough, the PC froze after a minute. Meanwhile, the other PC was working the whole time without a problem. We decided to switch the cards, and found both computers working properly. By this time, we did not know what to think. We attempted to make a call, but were still unsuccessful. After we troubleshot for a while, we thought that InfoAccel may have been reading the routing tables from the network card instead of from the dialup adapter. We disabled the LAN adapter. When we were about to try another call, we noticed that the PC that had been giving us problems (the one without the network card) froze yet again. At this point, we thought we heard laughter from some VoIP leprechaun that was not allowing us to eat our Lucky Charms.

Finally, we decided to switch the cards again. We placed the card in a different PCI slot, (which we had tried before, but this time we made sure everything was in order by double checking all the settings). After we tried yet again to make a call, we finally reached the leprechaun's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and were able to connect the VoIP call.

InfoAccel Calls
When we first connected the call between computers over IP (an InfoAccel call), the latency was noticeable, but the voice quality was commendable. After only a few words had been spoken, InfoAccel adjusted so that there was less latency, and the voice quality was even better. This happens with most VoIP products, but in this case, it was more noticeable than usual, earning InfoAccel a slightly higher grade.

To make sure that this first connection was not just a magical fluke from the land of the leprechauns, we made many other calls between computers. We also called InnoMedia to test long-distance InfoAccel calls. The latency and voice quality were similar to that of the first call. After this test we finally decided to dispel our theory about leprechauns, knowing for sure that it all worked fine.

InnoSphere Calls
In addition, we called to regular analog phones using InnoSphere. This process involved placing a call from an analog phone plugged into the InfoAccel card to one of InnoMedia's gateways. This, in turn, connected us via IP to the closest gateway at the location of the phone number dialed, which then connected us to the phone number itself. When you make such a call, you can press the InnoSphere button on the control panel GUI and call out, or you can just make a call and let the InfoAccel system detect that you are attempting to make an InnoSphere call. The system would then roll the call over to the appropriate application.

We were easily able to add names into our global address book by searching for the InfoAccel user. This was done searching by name, InfoAccel number, phone number, or e-mail address, and the listing appeared in a matter of moments. We could call these users from our personal address book once the listing was added. Speed dials are also easily accomplished by dragging the listing from the personal address book to a memory button. 

Finally, we sent and received InfoAccel voice email and listened to it over the player. When you are not available to answer a call or are offline, the system will send a .vem file (proprietary) as an e-mail attachment if the file is associated correctly. We had no trouble sending and listening to these files with the voice email player.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
There are a few areas in which InfoAccel can be improved. As mentioned before, help files should be included in the control panel GUI. In addition, the GUI should have right-click functionality. We also had to choose an option to go OnNet or OffNet from the file menu instead of simply pressing the button on the GUI. Right now with that button, you can't do anything except view whether or not the system is online. One last improvement we would suggest for the GUI is the ability to register new information without having to close and then reopen the interface.

While the sound quality is better than many VoIP applications, we still think that it can be improved, especially at the beginning of calls. If the quality at the beginning of conversations was as smooth as the quality after the discussion has lasted a few moments, the VoIP call would sound much closer to a regular call.

We would also like to be able to use any player to listen to our voice emails. The files could take the form of .wav files instead of, or in addition to .vem files, so that they may be played more easily. The proprietary player works fine, but other players should be useable.

CONCLUSION
While InnoMedia's InfoAccel is not perfect, it does deliver on quality VoIP calls that are either free (InfoAccel) or at considerably lower prices (InnoSphere) than traditional calling. Just by buying two InfoAccel cards and sending one of them to your best friend across the country, you would soon save enough money to pay for the product. For this reason and with its other features to boot, it is well worth your buying investment if you don't mind some latency and slightly lower voice quality than a regular phone call. Overall, in comparison to other VoIP products, there is only a minor delay, and the voice quality is excellent. Furthermore, as VoIP applications become more reliable with better quality, we are sure that InfoAccel will improve with the technology.







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