Sorensons EnVision is a sleek-looking video conferencing product made for
high-quality video conferencing over low-bandwidth connections. Designed to work over a
LAN or WAN (TCP/IP required), EnVision provides better-than-average video quality at an
affordable price. EnVision currently requires Windows 95/98, but an NT version is due to
be released in the third quarter of 1999.
Those looking for an easy-to-install product, with a good frame rate (it delivers a
constant 15 frames per second at 56 Kbps or higher avoiding jumpy video
on your screen) will be more than satisfied with EnVision. The entire package contains
everything needed to set up a video conferencing system: Software, video camera, PCI card
with audio/video processors, audio headset with earphone and mic, and a stand-alone
microphone, along with all the necessary cables. However, EnVision will work with any
NTSC-compatible video camera, so most home camcorders will work, although they tend to be
far more unwieldy than the EnVision camera (which is about the size of a bagel, not
counting the stand). EnVision features compatibility with all other H.323
standards-compliant video conferencing products.
Installation of the software consisted of a single CD, and was very straightforward. The
CD contained the EnVision software, along with some other items that are necessary for
video conferencing version 2.11 of Microsofts NetMeeting, VidCap (a video
capture program which is not noted in the documentation) and Internet Explorer 5 (which
isnt necessary for EnVision to run). The only snag we encountered was that during
driver installation, Windows 98 couldnt find the drivers on the CD, since they were
not located at the root level of the CD forcing us to browse in a subdirectory. The
installation manual made no reference that we needed to change subdirectories to install
the drivers. Experience allowed us to quickly determine the problem, but novices may not
be so lucky!
The PCI card contained no jumpers, and worked alone or in tandem with an existing sound
card. Its a standard PCI card with four jacks: Video In, Audio Out, Mic In, and Mic
Out. Wires are supplied to share audio peripherals with a sound card. However, in the
troubleshooting section, directions are given for displaying the device manager, which may
be too much for the non-technical user.
The documentation for EnVision is definitely aimed at the non-technical user. The
installation of EnVision is extremely simple, and the installation guide is very easy to
follow, even for the less computer-savvy user. The instructions were in bullet-point
format, sometimes very obvious (i.e., remove the EnVision card from the antistatic bag),
but generally helpful. Any obvious troubleshooting tips pertaining to that section of the
documentation are generally noted at the end of the section, as well as being covered in
the troubleshooting section at the end of the installation guide.
The guide outlines the hardware requirements, both for the PC base configuration and
the required components. Unfortunately, sticking with their low-tech
documentation approach, any topics dealing with TCP/IP (other than the fact that its
required for EnVision to work, as noted in the Required Components section)
are not included.
The EnVision package does not contain a separate manual for the EnVision software
no screen shots or descriptions. Although the software is very intuitive, little is
mentioned beyond some video conferencing tips (which are very helpful). The diagrams on
how to connect the camera, speakers, and microphones with an existing sound card were
particularly useful. (Although the part about changing the settings of the software could
use more explanation, along with some screenshots.)
One unusual feature of the documentation is that in order for the user to learn how to
place a call, EnVision has the user refer to the help menu of the software, and select the
topic from the help contents. As long as the software was installed correctly, accessing
this menu should not be a problem. Launching the self-view video window was the indication
that the unit was working, and was ready to make or receive a call.
Sorensons EnVision comes complete with everything needed to set up a video
conference: Camera, PCI card, microphone, headset, and all the cables required. The only
item not included is a set of speakers, which are not necessary if you choose to use the
headset. (Using the headset makes the standalone microphone unnecessary.)
Sorenson has developed a unique type of PCI card one that uses separate
processors to manage the audio and video processing. This has two effects on the computer
first it frees up the computers host processor to allow other functions, and
it decreases the requirements for bandwidth. This is what allows EnVision to have
higher-quality video than comparably priced video conferencing units.
The software has settings for both the local and remote video. Along with the standard
brightness/contrast/hue/saturation slider bars, there are settings for a quality-to-speed
slider bar, and a video capture size. An audio pull-down menu features speaker volume, mic
volume, and echo cancel. There is also a chat feature in the software.
Installing the PCI card and the software was easier than average, with no
surprises. A non-technical person would have no trouble following the directions and
installing the hardware and the software without a problem, other than the drivers not
being at the root level of the CD. The only other difficulty that a non-technical user
would have would be trying to find out what the IP address is. (We used the
winipcfg command under Start Menu: Run.) A non-technical user might not know
how to find the IP address, and this isnt covered in the documentation.
We tested EnVision on our 10/100 Base-T network. The video quality was higher than most
comparable units, and with the software set to the default settings (more on that later),
the 15 frames per second (fps) provided smooth motion, and there was little aliasing.
There was a bit more latency in the audio, however, more than we expected with
The software settings for EnVision were acceptable. The video settings menu set to
default provided us with the best video quality, with only minor adjustments needed on the
brightness. The quality-to-speed slider bar had little effect on either speed or quality,
and we found it best to set it to the maximum speed default.
The video capture size pull-down menu has three settings: Small, medium, and large. Medium
(176 x 144 QCIF) was the setting that provided the highest quality by far, on both the
local and remote video settings. The other settings were more noticeably aliased,
detracting from the quality of the video.
The standalone microphone worked acceptably, but tended to give much more echo than the
headset, despite adjusting the echo cancel setting to maximum. The headset was slightly
uncomfortable, and wasnt adjustable to work with either ear, only with the left ear
in this case.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
The camera that comes with the EnVision bundle doesnt come off of its base.
Other models have a slide-off base, so users can attach the base to the top of a monitor
using Velcro or double-sided tape, but the camera supplied by EnVision doesnt
support that feature. A longer RCA cable would allow more flexibility in the camera
placement. The camera has good vertical tilt, but its side-to-side tilt (looking at it
from the lens) is almost nonexistent. We also noticed that the camera shuts off when the
lens cover is closed. A good feature, but it shuts off too soon. There should be a wait
at least until the cover actually crosses the lens path before the
camera shuts off.
EnVision currently can not be invited to a DataBeam MCU. In order to attend a DataBeam
MCU conference, you have to place the call to the MCU. EnVision is currently unable to
connect to PictureTel MCU. No information is available on if this will change when the NT
version is released later in the year. However, this shouldnt deter the average user
who wants an easy-to-configure and easy-to-use video conferencing product.
The chat feature is slightly below average (for example, its not nearly as good
as the AOL chat feature), because it puts all the local computers text in one
window, and the remote computers text is placed in another window, which
doesnt allow for smooth back-and-forth text chat. Also, all text typed is
transmitted in real time, rather than typed and entered, so any mistakes made in
typing are seen by the party at the remote computer. However, since the chat feature
isnt a necessary part of EnVision, it shouldnt be something that deters
you from buying the product.
We were impressed with the video quality and the ease of installation of EnVision. For
high-quality video conferencing without any bells and whistles, EnVision by Sorenson
Vision is a good product. For users who are not concerned with anything but straight video
conferencing with excellent performance, EnVision is a good choice.