Energy lab pushes the videoconferencing envelope

Energy lab pushes the videoconferencing envelope

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

New videoconferencing units from PictureTel Corp. have minimized the bandwidth they require and eased data sharing from computers and peripherals.

The PictureTel 960 and 970, the first models in the Andover, Mass., company's 900 Series, can send 30 frames per second of video over a 256-Kbps connection. They automatically drop the frame rate to boost resolution of documents and computer images.

The Energy Department's Sandia National Laboratories beta tested the 970 for conferences between Albuquerque, N.M., and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. Jim Berry, manager of Sandia's videoconferencing, said he liked what he saw but was cautious about committing himself to the new systems.

'We'll see,' Berry said. 'The biggest indicator of how we feel is that we plan to buy the beta units.'

PictureTel product manager Michelle Waugh said the 900 Series corrects several problems with videoconferencing.

'The industry has never taken off the way we have predicted,' she said, because systems have been too complex, data sharing has been inefficient, sound quality poor and network management inadequate.

The 900 Series is based on the iPower architecture developed jointly by PictureTel and Intel Corp. It combines Pentium III and real-time conferencing processors with PictureTel software.

The 900 Series models have a common interface and software upgradeability. An ImageShare interface provides tabletop connectivity for network computers and peripherals to share applications and documents.

The series builds in interfaces for IP and multiple Integrated Services Digital Network connections'up to 384 Kbps on three basic-rate-interface links.

A failing

Waugh acknowledged, 'One of the things we have fallen short on is trying to push data though the same channel' as voice and video.

The 900 Series offers an alternative to the T.120 standard for File Transfer Protocol document conferencing. ImageShare lets all parties view high-resolution images, although only one party can manipulate them.

For T.120 document conferencing, 'throughput was not adequate,' Berry said. 'You were competing for speed with the video and audio, and starving the data.' The lab ended up using Microsoft NetMeeting over a separate connection for data collaboration, he said.

Although the PictureTel high-resolution system does not allow T.120 collaboration, the image quality is an improvement, Berry said. 'Remote management is also a critical thing we are pushing,' he said. Sandia has about 120 videoconferencing units, 'pretty much one of everything you can imagine,' so ease of management is essential.

The 900 Series has a Simple Network Management Protocol agent for management from an SNMP console.

Berry said he is pleased with the 970's reduced audio delay. Latency has dropped from 350 milliseconds to 200 milliseconds.

PictureTel 960 and 970 units are available now. The entry-level 960 has a list price of $9,500. The 970, with better camera capabilities, costs $14,500 for IP only and $16,500 for IP/quad-BRI ISDN connections.

Contact PictureTel at 978-292-5000.

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