Need a cheap videoconferencing system? Chrome to the rescue

You don't need to spend much for a full-HD videoconferencing system.

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Getting a videoconferencing systems has always mean sky-high hardware costs, big maintenance woes, and extreme service fees. But no longer. Google's new Chrome-based videoconferencing system costs about what you'd normally pay for a PC.

Google just announced Chromebox for Meetings, a system based on an ASUS Chrome PC. The system runs $999, and comes with the Intel i7-based Chromebox, which comes with four USB ports and a Logitech HD camera. The camera has up to full HD resolution, and automatically adjusts its resolution based on your current bandwidth. There's also a microphone, built-in digital signal processor, and a remote control with full keyboard.

As for the backend software, there's a chance that you already use it: Google Hangouts. That's a big plus, and not just because of the Web-based software's simplicity. It means that anyone with any device that runs Hangouts -- which means pretty much every operating system and every device from a PC to tablet to phone -- can participate in the videoconference. So you might have five people in the home office in a room with the Chromebox, and seven other people around the world using PCs, phones, and tablets participating. In all, 15 devices can simultaneously videoconference. Another plus is that it's integrated with Google Calendar, for setting up and launching meetings.

For the first year, the service is free. After that, it costs $250 per Chromebox. At that price, it's videoconferencing for the rest of us.

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