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July 16, 2008

LifeSize Brings Affordable HD Videoconferencing to the Market

By Michelle Robart, TMCnet Editor

As rising energy prices hike travel costs and cut into the bottom line, more companies are realizing the benefits of videoconferencing.
In addtion, new codecs, which allow high-definition video to be sent over limited broadband connections, have improved the quality of videoconferencing systems.
Today, affordable high-definition videoconferencing systems have become increasingly available. In the past, HD videoconferencing, or telepresence, was only possible with expensive room-based systems from companies such as Cisco and Hewlett-Packard.
LifeSize (News - Alert) Communications recently introduced its Express line, designed to make HD
videoconferencing affordable for more companies. With systems from $4,999 and acceptable performance, the company has achieved that goal.
Express comes in two models: a $5,999 edition with a pan, tilt, and zoom camera, and a $4,999 version with a fixed camera, called Focus. By comparison, Polycom's (News - Alert) HDX 7000 lists for $9,499 and sports a few more inputs and outputs, as well as advanced options for connectivity and performance enhancements. Sony’s PCSG50, a standard-definition videoconferencing system, lists for $5,800.
Both Express systems use the same low-profile appliance that handles audio/video encoding and transmission. The whole setup is designed to be portable and can fit into a briefcase. Video is transmitted at 720-pixel (1,280 by 720, progressive scan) resolution at a rate of 30 frames per second on a scant 1 Mbps of bandwidth. At up to 2 Mbps, the resolution stays the same, but the codec uses the extra bandwidth to better handle motion in the video frame.
Information Week tested LifeSize Express with the pan, tilt, and zoom camera and monitors from Samsung, ViewSonic, and Dell (News - Alert) in their Syracuse University Real-World Labs. After the testing, Information Week said they could clearly read writing on whiteboards about 20 feet away. Also, the zoom feature let them see details on screens that were 10 to 15 feet from the camera.
The video quality was found it to be far sharper than the testers’ previous experiences with videoconferencing systems, most of which use standard definition or less.
A more significant difference between LifeSize Express and its more expensive rivals is in call capacity. LifeSize Express units can call only one other LifeSize endpoint at a time, so it's not a good choice for SMEs that want multi-site videoconferencing capabilities. A LifeSize Express model can join multi-party calls when it connects to LifeSize MP or LifeSize Room units, which are designed to connect multiple locations.

LifeSize Express was tested under typical WAN conditions by connecting the system to Shunra (News - Alert) Software's Virtual Enterprise network modeler, which simulates a WAN network with defined impairments such as latency, loss, and bandwidth restrictions.
During testing, when both sides of the video link were in the same room, there was a slightly noticeable delay as voice and video traveled from one Express unit to the other, according to Information Week. However, they added that in separate rooms, the delay would be noticeable only if you were looking for it.
When Internet latency was added--25 to 50 microseconds one way on a normal distribution--to the test mix, Information Week testers reported a slight delay, but were able to understand conversations.
LifeSize Express includes VGA and HDMI inputs to show remote presentations; a one-eighth-inch audio jack to connect the included LifeSize MicPod or another microphone; a FireWire jack to connect the LifeSize pan, tilt, and zoom or Focus camera; and line-out and line-in audio jacks.
The optional LifeSize Phone includes 16 microphones in a circular array for enhanced audio.
LifeSize Express setup was described to be very easy. The unit can be configured via static or DHCP IP addressing and supports both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. Configuration menus are simple and intuitive, and are accessed via a small, silver remote.
Information Week concluded that overall, they were impressed with the performance of LifeSize Express' HD videoconferencing, which will enhance meetings and collaboration. Compared with the high cost and inconvenience of air travel, LifeSize Express proves to be a beneficial communications tool.
Michelle Robart is a Contributing Editor at TMCnet. To read more of her articles please visit her columnist page.

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