Vialta's Beamer Adds Video To Phones

By Greg Scoblete On Sep 2 2002 - 6:00am

Vialta hopes to christen a new product category on retail shelves this fall: the phone video station. The product, called Beamer, is currently shipping.

The Beamer adds full-motion color video to any household telephone. Users plug their phone into the back of the Beamer and then plug the Beamer into a wall jack. Users then talk over the phone and sit (or stand) in front of the Beamer to see their counterparts in full motion color video. Both parties in a conversation must have Beamers to see each other.

The Beamer will be sold individually for a suggested retail price of $299 or in a two-pack, individually wrapped, for a suggested $499.

The Beamer works over any analog phone line and incurs no additional charge above the cost of the phone call placed. Its internal 33.6Kbps modem and CMOS camera allow video to be transmitted in various resolutions.

A Detail/Movement control push-button toggle switch lets users choose between having more fluid movement (faster refresh rate) or a higher-resolution image. When a user pushes either the top or bottom of the button (for movement or detail), a vertical scale appears on the left-hand side of Beamer's screen. Users can then move up and down several places, choosing between a clearer image or more fluid movement.

The frame-shaped device features a 3.5-inch TFT-LCD screen with a variable hinge (30-degree range of motion), enabling callers to tilt the screen for an optimum viewing angle. When a call comes in, the user answers the phone and presses "start" on the Beamer to begin transmitting video. The user then has three viewing options. Callers can go from a video of the person they are speaking with to a view of themselves, or they can choose the "picture-in-picture" feature that allows both the caller and the person on the other line to be viewed simultaneously.

While making the initial video connection, Beamer lets a user see the video that will be transmitted before the image becomes visible to the other party. If a specific video image is particularly appealing, the caller can use the "snapshot" function to send that specific view as a still image rather than as continuous video.

This snapshot feature also doubles as a privacy mode. Any video transmission may be temporarily halted as long as desired, replaced with a still image, and then resumed by the person who initiates the snapshot.

Beamer will also support caller ID service, displaying incoming call information on the LCD screen, but it does not support call waiting or 3-way calling.

"Everyone already has a phone. This is a new product category," Tenaglia said.

Vialta's president and CEO Didier Pietri said there are no plans to integrate the Beamer into a telephone unit.

"We believe that would be a step backward," Pietri said.

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