Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cisco Brings TelePresence to Consumers with ūmi

Over a year ago, I had heard from a friend who works at Cisco that the company would was working on a consumer TelePresence product. After much anticipation, Cisco officially announced its consumer home TelePresence system called ūmi, which brings HD videoconferencing to consumers. ūmi is available for pre-order only in the U.S. and will start to ship on 11/15/2010 at a cost of $599.99. Cisco ūmi connects to an existing HD television and a broadband internet connection and comprises of a set top box, a remote, and a 1080p camera that sits on top of your TV.

As part of its ongoing efforts to capture the consumer video market, Cisco has made ūmi simple from a consumer standpoint. On your end, you'll need a HDTV, a broadband Internet connection with a minimum of 1.5 Mbps for 720p and 3.5 Mbps for 1080p and a Cisco ūmi service plan at $24.99/month or $274.99/year for unlimited calls and up to 100 minutes of recorded video messages.

From the reviews I've seen, the ūmi calls are very high quality and the audio is natural, much like the enterprise TelePresence products. Similar to Tandberg videoconferencing systems, ūmi is controlled by a single remote control that manages video calls, video messages, contacts, and profile and settings. Recorded messages can be shared on Facebook, YouTube, or via email.

The camera is set on autofocus, autoexposure, white balance, optical zoom, as well as a motor for panning and tilting. Cisco was also smart to make ūmi compatible with Google video chat, which allows ūmi systems to send and receive video calls to any user with a computer, webcam and Google video chat.

Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers said:
"Cisco ūmi will bring the unique telepresence experience into living rooms and change the way we are able to be together with family and friends. 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."
As part of its non-stop TelePresence marketing campaign, Cisco will be launching a major marketing campaign for ūmi with "The Oprah Winfrey Show",  Ellen Page, the star of "Juno" and "Inception," and a Cisco ūmi mall tour that begins Nov. 10 and travels to more than 20 major malls across the U.S.

I love it that my friend Dave Beeler, star of Safety Geeks and Invention with Brian Forbes stars in all the new ūmi commercials.

Cisco is working with Verizon to bring ūmi to Verizon FiOS customers early next year, and also is working with Best Buy as a ūmi reseller through its Magnolia Home Theatre stores this holiday season. Magnolia Home Theatre stores will provide product support and bandwidth packages, with installation and support provided by The Geek Squad.

Also this week, Logitech announced its Google TV product, Logitech Revue With Google TV, that is similarly priced for all the bells and whistles, according to Techcrunch. Techcrunch also caught up with Marthin De Beer, Cisco’s SVP of the Emerging Technologies Group, for an interview to question him about ūmi's $600.00 price tag. According to De Beer, ūmi is like a fine “piece of chocolate,” as "it’s impossible to define it’s worth without a little taste."

Cisco ūmi specs:
Video resolution
    • Full HD 1080p video calling (1920x1080 pixels) and 720p recording at 30 frames per second.
    • Dynamic resolution scaling based on available bandwidth (1080p, 720p, and 480p supported)
Camera optics and mechanics
    • Optical zoom
    • Multi glass lens
    • Auto focus, auto exposure and auto white balance
    • Motorized aim –pan, tilt, and zoom
    • Motorized shutter for privacy control
Microphone and speaker
    • Built-in microphone array with software beamforming
    • Embedded speaker for incoming call ringing
TV compatibility
    • Compatible with high-definition widescreen TVs capable of 1080p or 720p with available HDMI port.
    • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n ) 
    • 10/100 Ethernet (RJ-45)
Video/Audio input and outputs
    • HDMI Out: ūmi console to TV, HDMI In: media passthrough supported with select set top boxes and BluRay equipment.
    • Digital audio over HDMI or optical audio
    • Built-in IR receiver for ūmi remote