Living Room Video Conferencing Is Here – Are We Ready?

Ben Bajarin - Oct 7, 2010, 8:28am CDT
Living Room Video Conferencing Is Here – Are We Ready?

It appears one of the themes of the second half of 2010 is video conferencing.  Apple has been driving a lot of awareness with FaceTime.   Sprint has been driving awareness with their EVO 4G commercials. Yesterday Cisco and Logitech demonstrated their video conferencing solutions.  Both Apple and Sprint have been driving awareness for video conferencing with mobile devices.   However Cisco and Logitech demonstrated their approach is to bring video conferencing into the living room.

Consumer video conferencing has been one of those things I have watched as an industry insider for a while now.  Mostly because I do a lot of analysis around the personal computer and most consumer video conferencing solutions have thus far been PC based.  The big question is are consumers ready for living room video conferencing?   Is the mass market ready or is it still only for early adopters?    Read on for my further analysis.

Cisco’s Umi Solution
Cisco has taken an approach that simply focuses on getting the stand alone experience with video conferencing right.   They felt that introducing a box that did too much and where video conferencing was only a feature was not the right strategy given where the market is right now.  To this extend they have created in my opinion the best in home video conferencing solution thus far.

One of the primary reason’s I say this is because they focused their efforts on the quality of the video and the experience of the video conference.    One of the things our informal research always pointed out about the PC based video conferencing solutions was that the low picture quality was an inhibitor of the experience therefore it made it less desirable.    We humans experience face to face interaction in high definition (or higher) so it would stand to reason that we would desire nothing less when it came to virtual face to face interactions.    This is why Cisco decided to have their solution be capable of providing a 1080p video quality resolution experience.  To get 1080p it does require 3.5 mbps both up and down in order to deliver 1080p quality.   To deliver 720p 1.5 mbps is required which is probably more likely for the average home consuming broadband consumer.

My only knock on the Cisco Umi solution is the price.   At a $599 price-tag plus a $24.99 a month price tag I think it is clearly an early adopter / small business solution for right now.    That being said we are very early in this market and it will take time to develop and as it develops the price will come down.

Logitech Revue
Logitech’s take on home video conferencing is very different.   Logitech, going full speed with Google TV, has built consumer video conferencing into their offering as an additional ad-on as a feature to their overall Google TV solution.   For Logitech its more about a new type of TV experience where video conferencing is a feature but not the sole reason for having the set up like Cisco’s Umi.

The Logitech video conferencing solution was good quality as well only it was 720p.  Given the short amount of time we had for a demo I couldn’t tell any drastic difference in the video quality of the two solutions but in both implementations I feel video quality is key to getting consumers to adopt video conferencing in the home.

The Pricing of the Revue at $299 + $149 for the video camera is a little more consumer friendly however set top boxes have not historically sold well in the past.  Again I feel like Google TV is still for early adopters and will take some time to mature before its ready for the mass market.

Video conferencing in the home will certainly happen and in particularly when all the devices capable of video calling can actually talk to each other.   Which is not the case right now.  The solutions are fragmented and will remain so for at least the next six month’s.

Retailers will be a key player in how consumers adopt home video conferencing.   It will be imperative that retailers position these products and provide an ample demonstration that highlights the value of home video conferencing.

Things to Watch

Will service providers like Comcast or AT&T begin selling either solution in order to drive demand for higher broadband speeds
– Will other entrenched set top boxes in the home begin doing home video conferencing like the PS3 or the XBOX 360
– How will retailers position the two products to allow for the optimal demo and display

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