Cisco Introduces Home 'Telepresence' - Is the Price Right?

  • Cisco
  • Telepresence
SAN JOSE, CACisco launched its much-anticipated, TV-based video communications product - the strangely named ?mi telepresence. The ?mi, which includes an HD camera, a console and a remote, connects to an existing HD television and a broadband Internet connection to create a video communications experience that Cisco calls "clear, natural and lifelike." The device adjusts automatically to lighting conditions and room size to optimize video and audio performance.

Cisco umiThe remote control provides access to an on-screen interface through which users can make calls, watch video messages and record videos to share on the Web. Users can place and receive video calls from any computer with a webcam and Google video chat - there doesn't have to be a second ?mi on the other end of the call.

Cisco envisions the ?mi being used for both personal and commercial purposes. Marthin De Beer, senior vice president of Cisco's emerging technologies business group, says, "From singing happy birthday every year to reading bedtime stories every night, ?mi lets friends and families experience life's special moments together," while John Chambers, the company's chairman and CEO, says, "We envision a future where technologies like this will play a role in connecting consumers with businesses to enable the delivery of new services, ranging from education, to health care, to financial services – to the home."

The ?mi is easy to set up and simple to use, according to Cisco. Users can check for video messages on their laptops or mobile phones. Features such as call screening and blocking, as well as a camera shutter that closes, keep users in control of their privacy.

Cisco has been conducting trials with Verizon FiOS customers and anticipates launching services to FiOS customers early next year. Cisco is also working with Best Buy to bring ?mi to its Magnolia Home Theatre stores by November 14, in time for the holiday season. The suggested retail price is $599, with a monthly fee of $24.99 for unlimited service - still a long way from the zero equipment fee and maximum $10 monthly charge that Yankee Group analyst Benoit Felten says is necessary to make this type of service a "killer app."

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