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Features
Hands-0n Net Conferencing

-- by Marc Spiwak

Live 200p

PictureTel's Live 200p videoconferencing system performs smoothly thanks to its use of an ISDN line, whose efficiency surpasses that of an analog telephone system. ISDN's digital signals are unaffected by static and noise, and these lines can transmit at 128Kbps-four times faster than a 28.8Kbps modem.

The Live 200p package includes a Plug-and-Play PCI adapter card, a combination earphone/microphone, speakers, color video camera, software and cables. You provide an ISDN line and a network termination.

Optimally, the system delivers 15 frames per second-not quite up to snuff with broadcast video, but smooth enough to be effective. You can set picture resolution, detail level, color and brightness.

The software also offers address lists, hot lists, sorting tools, automatic call logging, customizable toolbars, remote control and application sharing. You can share documents with the person at the other end via the whiteboard feature, or use the file-transfer application to swap files during the call.

EasyCam Videoconferencing Kit

All you need to add to the versatile Philips EasyCam Videoconferencing Kit is an IP address. The kit includes a desktop video camera-which can also be used for video capture, surveillance and still capture-an EasyVideo PC adapter card, a manual and a selection of useful software.

You can install the EasyVideo PC adapter card easily in an ISA slot. The card has inputs for S-Video, EasyCam, composite video, line audio and a microphone, as well as an audio output. The adapter does double duty as a sound card.

The included Enhanced CU-SeeMe software is easy to use-all you need is the other party's IP address. The two ends are joined by video windows and push-to-talk audio. The system responded fairly well over a TCP/IP network. The video was slow, but of reasonable quality. The audio fidelity was of about the same quality as an analog line.

Using a 28.8Kbps connection was a different story. I was unable to link up with other CU-SeeMe users. When I finally managed to get connected, the quality plummeted, with crackly audio and video that only updated every few seconds.

The Philips kit is not as good as PictureTel's ISDN system, but it's also only a third of the cost.

RoundTable

The ForeFront Group's RoundTable allows real-time multimedia conferencing and interactive collaboration. It installs as a server on one system; all subsequent collaborating systems will need client software. You'll also need an active Winsock connection and IP address for each machine.

RoundTable combines text-based chat with a whiteboard that lets you share images, documents, URLs, video and audio. Each participant can see the shared information.

The RoundTable window is divided into three panes: Chat Panel, Meeting Roster and Canvas Workspace. Use the Chat Panel for text-based chat. The Meeting Roster lists workgroup participants. The Canvas Workspace is where you drag and drop files for all to share and work on. The program automatically compresses large files to keep things moving quickly.

RoundTable is fairly easy to use, once you get the hang of it. To chat, just type your text and click on a button. The Canvas Workspace is updated on the fly as new elements and illustrations are added with various drawing tools.

NetMeeting 2.0

Microsoft's NetMeeting is a conferencing product with no risk involved-it's available at no cost on the Web. I tested a beta of version 2.0, which had just been released at press time. The product is also bundled with Internet Explorer.

NetMeeting 2.0 works under Windows 95 and NT 4.0. It supports the ITU H.323 standard. Version 2.0 is also backward-compatible with NetMeeting 1.0's proprietary standards.

The program supports Internet telephony for voice and data conferencing. It allows application sharing, electronic whiteboard, chat and file transfers. The Microsoft User Location Server lets you find and connect to people on the Internet-provided that your network firewall will let you.

I had no trouble using NetMeeting, and the controls are easy enough to figure out. However, your firewall might prevent you from using the product because you have to be able to reach Microsoft's server site. Whereas RoundTable lets you set up your own server, NetMeeting insists that you use Microsoft's server. I was able to reach the site using an outside IP provider, but could not use the product internally.

W Info File

Live 200p
Price: $1,495
Pros: Good, real-time videoconferencing
Cons: Expensive; requires ISDN
WinMag Box Score 3.5

PictureTel

508-292-5000, fax: 800-783-5411

W Info File

RoundTable
Price: Client, free for download; server, $559 for 5 users
Pros: Internet and intranet collaboration
Cons: Confusing documentation
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

The ForeFront Group

800-653-4933; 813-539-7283, 713-961-1101

W Info File

EasyCam Videoconferencing Kit
Price: $499
Pros: Affordable
Cons: Performance
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

Philips Professional Solutions

800-235-7373, 408-453-7373

W Info File

NetMeeting 2.0
Price: Client free for download
Pros: Free
Cons: Firewall can prevent internal use
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

Microsoft Corp.

800-426-9400

Copyright 1997 CMP Media Inc.


(From Windows Magazine, January 1997, page 240.)