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November 1996 Reviews TOC

11/96 Reviews HW: PictureTel Live200p

ISDN Gets You There

By Marc Spiwak

Videoconferencing over analog phone lines is even worse than watching a badly dubbed foreign film. By taking advantage of the higher, digital bandwidth provided by an ISDN line, PictureTel's Live200p system makes videoconferencing the next best thing to being there-almost.

The $1,495 Live200p package includes a Plug-and-Play PCI-based adapter card, a combination earphone/microphone, a pair of speakers, a color video camera, software and all necessary cables. You supply a 486/66 or faster computer, 20MB of disk space, 16MB of RAM, 256KB of cache, Windows 95, a Super VGA monitor, 32-bit PCI graphics with 2MB of memory and one free PCI slot for the Live200p card. PictureTel recommends using a Pentium 90 (or faster) with 64-bit graphics.

I tested a pair of PictureTel 200p packages using two similarly equipped Pentium PCs. Besides a computer, you'll need an ISDN BRI line (from your local telephone service provider) and a Network Termination device, or NT1 (an additional expense). Some ISDN devices have a built-in NT1; unfortunately, the Live 200p does not.

You'll need standard videoconferencing equipment at both ends if you want to conduct a videoconference.

The Plug-and-Play hardware was easy to install, and I had local video on screen in a short time. The Live200p card installs in a PCI slot and a DIN cable connects it to the color video camera. The earpiece plugs into the card's two jacks; you can also use the external speakers and your own microphone.

The default protocol for the Live200p is 5ESS Point-to-Point, so you don't have to enter any Service Profile Identifier (SPID) numbers. SPIDs determine what services and features the service provider's switch supplies to the attached ISDN device. The default protocol didn't work with my service provider, however, so I had to use the National ISDN (NI1) protocol. Once the correct protocol for the ISDN line was selected, I only had to dial the number.

The size of the video window affects the quality of the received image-the smaller, the better. An optimal delivery of 15 frames per second is smooth enough to be effective and is much better than the choppy images produced by non-ISDN systems.

The software offers many e-mail-like features such as address lists, hotlists and sorting tools. Automatic call logging, customizable toolbars, remote desktop control and application sharing are also part of the package. A whiteboard feature lets you share and annotate documents or graphics with the person at the other end, and a file-transfer application lets you send or receive files during the call.

Although ISDN videoconferencing is expensive, its performance is the best you can get right now. If your organization can really benefit from videoconferencing, then it's a bargain.

--Info File--
PictureTel Live200p
Pros: Good real-time videoconferencing
Cons: Expensive; ISDN and network terminator required
Platforms: 95
PictureTel Corp.
800-716-6000, 508-292-5000
WinMag Box Score 3.5

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