Videoconferencing gets rugged

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The tiny camera above the Tactical MXP's display can be covered to protect it'or you. A laptop PC fits nicely in the bottom compartment.

Tandberg's suitcase system works well, but it's not for everyone

Lost in a desert sandstorm? Sitting at a truck stop in St. Paul, Minn.? If you need to make a videoconference call and don't know the conditions you'll be facing, then the Tactical MXP from Tandberg USA could be your ace in the hole.

The Tactical MXP looks like a plain 25-pound black suitcase from the outside. Inside, however, it has everything you need to run a videoconference in a difficult environment or a plush boardroom.

When you open the suitcase you will find the top half holds a 15.4-inch LCD in a 16 by 9 aspect ratio. The screen is 1280-by-800 WXGA resolution, so it not only works well for video but can also display very fine details. It has a rugged plastic shield that can protect it from harm and the suitcase itself has a hydraulic arm so it won't accidentally close.

Above the screen is a tiny charge-coupled device camera set into a slightly recessed area. You can close a metal flap to completely seal the camera from the elements. You can also use the flap if you need to do something you don't want on-camera.

The bottom of the suitcase is rather empty, because the actual processor is bolted into a rather small area. A large cushioned area lets you store a notebook PC, which you could us to show a PowerPoint presentation during a videoconference.

The entire system is driven by a hardened PC running a proprietary operating system from Tandberg. It uses a flash drive to host the OS, so there are no moving parts.

In our testing the Tactical was surprisingly easy to use. It quickly connected to a host of nonrugged systems, from boardroom setups to tiny single-camera laptop systems. It automatically performed well in maintaining a good connection, doing things like downcycling to compensate for network congestion. It also supports the Advanced Encryption Standard if your job demands an extra layer of security.

Flexible designs

Tandberg includes two remotes. One remote is solidly attached to the unit and encased in foam so that it can't be removed. The other is identical and securely stored in a pocket below the first, but can be removed and used the usual way from across the room. If the removable remote is lost or disabled, you still have a backup.

You can configure the screen in many ways, such as looking at the person you're talking to over a full screen, or having your live feed side by side with the person on the other end. The best mode we found in our testing, however, was a three-panel display that shows you, your conference partner and any images you're sending.

Of course, as with any videoconferencing system, inputs and outputs are paramount. The Tactical has more ports than most presentation plasma monitors we've reviewed, which ensures the Tactical will fit into whatever videoconference situation your agency has.

There are S-Video, RCA composite and DVI SXGA PC inputs. The Tactical has output ports for S-video, a VCR (in case you need to tape your session) and dual-monitor support. In addition, the unit comes with an assortment of power adapters, including 12-, 24- and 48-volt car adapters. That way any vehicle, from a standard civilian car to a military Humvee, could power the unit.

You can plug the unit directly into a network, and there is a slot for a wireless card. But the unit, despite its suitcase design, is not totally mobile in the true sense of the word. You still need a power source because the unit lacks a battery.

Although the Tactical MXP is certainly rugged, it is not designed specifically to meet military 810f specifications. Still, we found it fairly tough and one of the most robust videoconferencing systems we've ever seen.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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