Originally created 02/25/97

Box turns TV into video phone



Video telephones have been in science-fiction movies as far back as I can remember. So where are they in today's high-tech world?

A new box for the top of the TV set called C-Phone could be the answer to the long-awaited video phone.

I'm not saying there haven't been any others available. AT&T's home color video telephone has been out for some time. But the 3-inch screen and slow frame-per-second rate offer little more than a fuzzy still image that changes once in a while.

The main problem is bandwidth, or how much information can be sent over phone lines.

An ordinary phone line's bandwidth is like a 1-inch water pipe: fine for voice information. Color video contains massive amounts of data that require a pipe at least a foot wide.

And although there are alternative phone services that can handle the stream, such as ISDN and ADSL, they are more costly and are not available everywhere.

C-Phone combines several innovations in a marketable package.

The bandwidth problem is mostly overcome by a compression technique designated as H.324.

With our water analogy, this is like turning up the pressure to move more water through a 1-inch pipe. C-Phone's H.324 compliance also makes it compatible with the latest computer video telephony equipment.

But more important, I believe C-Phone's success will be largely due to its integration of the telephone with another common appliance, the TV.

C-Phone looks much like an ordinary cable converter box. It connects the same way and sits on top of the TV set (it can also connect to the antenna). Plug the C-Phone into any phone jack, and that's it. Built into the C-Phone is a high-speed digital color camera and 33.6K synchronous modem.

Its remote control has a built-in wireless microphone and is used in conjunction with the TV's speaker to form a full-duplex echo-canceling speakerphone for clear voice communication.

When the phone rings, press the remote's answer key and you speak and see the caller on your TV. This is an especially nice setup if your TV has picture-in-picture. The remote's key pad lets you make outgoing calls, as well. The color image is clear, approaches full-motion video and fills most of the screen. And all this technology can be accessed without getting up, a couch potato's dream. This is the first video phone I've seen that looks, in a word, practical.

But will C-Phone catch on? Two things stand in its way:

The price: At $349.95 plus a monthly video network subscription fee of $19.95, it's a little steep. (But prices will probably come down.)

The number of units out there. After all, if you want to place a video call, the other party needs a C-Phone or a computer with a compatible setup.

For businesses, C-Phone could be a practical solution for video-conferencing. For home, it's an ideal way for family members to keep in touch. Send one to the grandparents. Looks like the video phone has finally arrived.

Contact C-Phone at (910) 395-6100.