March 28, 2001, 11:06 AM — Proprietary appliance architectures make sense when you want to tightly integrate many complex systems. When developers of a proprietary videoconferencing appliance use standard communications protocols, such as H.320 and H.323, their products interoperate with any standard-compliant device.
But when you want to collaborate and exchange PC data during a videoconference, sticking with a native PC platform reduces your headaches and improves user productivity.
PictureTel's newest product is designed for people who need lifelike video and crystal-clear audio, as well as graphics or text that appear crisp, readable and can be modified by videoconference participants. Developed in collaboration with Intel, the iPower 960 is an ISDN- and IP-compatible solution for a meeting-room setting.
We put the iPower 960 in our lab and assessed audio and video quality, interoperability, end-user experience and collaborative features. The iPower 960's packaging is well-thought-out and offers high-quality audio and video, and thus wins a World Class Award.
Performance and features
The paramount concerns with videoconferencing are audio fidelity and clarity, and video quality (frame rate and image resolution). The goal is to make users feel like they are in the same room. The audio and video quality depend on the technology in the endpoints and the networks that connect them.
That said, the iPower does everything technologically possible to make up for unfavorable network conditions. In our tests, the product delivered echo-free, full-duplex audio.
We subjected our test conferences to optimal and poor network conditions (for example, congestion on the Internet and irregularities in ISDN service). At 384K bit/sec, we found video frame rates consistently greater than 20 frames per second with few perceptible artifacts (blurred edges, miscolored pixels or blocks of pixels), even under low light conditions.
The iPower 960's prime selling point is PictureTel's People+Content technology for productivity-enhancing applications and seamless system functionality. For presentations and document sharing from PC to PC, the product has Microsoft's NetMeeting 3.01 built in, although the NetMeeting interface is hidden. Consequently, it's friendlier than NetMeeting. When a connection can support a T.120 data conference, an icon appears in the lower right corner of the screen. After a few simple dialog boxes, you can share any local or server-based file with the people in your conference.