On March 31st 2010 I attended a presentation hosted by Sprint and VTel showcasing a video conferencing system (and Sprint wireless connectivity for the device). The lunch and learn was held at Maggiano’s in Nashville TN.
VTel CEO Richard Ford lead the presentation and was joined by Ken Hall the South East Regional Sales Manager.
They showcased their iPanel Room video conference system. It comprised of an HDTV, High Def SVideo Camera, a customized slimline PC (that was attached of the rear of the Flat Panel TV) and a paired wireless keyboard. A Sprint wireless device was tethered to the system to provide 3G connectivity. (Sprint mobile 4g is not available in Nashville currently – Sprint 4g is currently limited to WiMAX via their relationship with Clearwire).
What VTel have done in creating this system is to integrate several internet and video technologies and added a Video conferencing application to provide a simple to use and reliable configuration. One could piece something similar together oneself from piece parts, however what VTel offer is a tried and tested system that works out of the box with their expertise to support you.
The system is capable of splitting the screen to show the remote party(ies) and the local video or desktop at the same time. Additionally picture-in-picture is possible within either or both of these screens. The customized keyboard which includes a roller-ball style pointing device makes using and navigating the system very straight forward. Toggling between full screen and split screen is achieved by pressing a single custom key on the keyboard.
Up to 36 simultaneous video conference sessions is supported by the top-of-the-line configuration from VTel. The logistics of managing more than half a dozen conference participants at once will be the limiting factor, not the technology. VTel’s proprietary video conference application runs on a factory installed copy of Windows XP. VTel have a Windows 7 version in testing and hope to release ‘soon’. The proprietary video application uses the H.323 video standard which makes it compatible from video conferencing solutions from other suppliers that support this same standard, Polycom is one such system. The VTel system appears to rely upon public IP addresses to establish calls, this could be somewhat limiting. To address firewall traversal challenges, VTel also support the use of Skype audio and video conferencing on their device. Currently Skype is limited to point-to-point video calls, although VTel are working with Skype on a future release of Skype that will support multi-point video conferencing.
Video Conferencing requires a good quality camera and the SVideo camera supplied with the configuration does not disappoint. It supports pan and zoom. Remote pan and zoom of the remote parties camera is possible with VTels video application. The camera will work with Skype using a publicly available software based video splitter, however pan and zoom is not possible when using Skype.
VTel’s room systems support 42″, 47″ and 55″ HDTV’s in their standard packages. One can buy the system without the HDTV and provide your own HDTV or projection device of your choosing. The system connects to the HDTV via HDMI. The demo unit output video via a DVI port through a DVI-HDMI converter cable. Apparently the current production models have native HDMI ports built into the system unit.
VTel sell a 19″ ruggedized unit that can be used at remote locations. They have sold such systems to law enforcement SWAT teams. The City of Roswell have also purchased VTel solutions for Traffic Management since they can provide significant cost savings using the 3G wireless connectivity versus running a more traditional cabled solution.
VTel have partnered with Sprint for providing wireless connectivity for their solution. Sprint have recently removed all caps on their unlimited data plans. So unlimited truly means unlimited, unlike with the other major wireless carriers where a 5GB monthly cap is typical. This change is directly attributable to Sprints relationship with Clearwire who are providing their 4g wireless for homes and businesses, where such a cap would limit adoption of their technology by consumers.
The iPanel room systems start at $5,500 for the 42″ model and it is a complete package ready to go. Purchasing the video system without an HDTV costs $3,995 according to their website.
Compared to Video Conferencing systems available 5 years ago that were very expensive and relied on ISDN for making calls. This system utilizes the public internet via wired Ethernet, WiFi or 3g/4g tethered devices, which makes deployment easier and cheaper than systems of yesteryear.