Packet8 VideoPhone review

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Packet8 VideoPhone review

To borrow a quote, "Beavis, this is the coolest thing I have ever seen".

I got a sneak peek at the Packet8 VideoPhone, which has an embeded RTOS (UNIX/OSIX compliant) and I was quite impressed! It supports CIF (352 x 288 pixels) and QCIF (176 x 144 pixels) resolutions, and it uses SIP. According to the specifications, it uses G.711, G.723.1 for the audio, although when I spoke to Packet8, they said the videophone also uses their own "flavor" of G.729a.

Hooking up the Packet8 VideoPhone was a breeze. I did have to make a minor change to our firewall to allow all ports to reach the Internet from the Packet8 VideoPhone. However, I didn't have to map the VideoPhone to the outside, which is a security risk - the phone was still safely behind our firewall. The IP address of the phone was still a private LAN address. That's the beauty of Packet8's NAT traversal technology - it can traverse firewalls no problemo! In fact, Packet8 has done a lot of work to make sure all of their VoIP products can get past that NASTY NAT!

I made a test video call (dialing a standard 10 digit phone number) across our T1 data line to Huw Ress, VP of Sales & Marketing at Packet8. Immediately, he answered (it was a surprise call) and I caught him on another phone call. It was funny watching him on my screen display with two phone receivers - one to each ear. At least I knew he wasn't lying when he said he was on another call. He put me on hold briefly.. actually he left his camera running, so I saw full video and knew when his other call ended.

The video quality was superb, the camera and the 5" TFT-LCD display screen for very good quality. The screen tilts 23 ~ 90 degrees which was very good. I was able to increase the amount of bandwidth from 128kbps to 256kbps and even up to 640kbps. Very impressive! The voice quality was equally superb and importantly, the voice and the video of the lips were in near perfect sync.

I should reiterate, that this videocall was intiated using a standard 10 digit number. I was not dialing an IP address or a SIP URL - which would obviously slow user adoption. The videophone is smart enough to detect when dialing another videophone to transmit video. If you dial a 10 digit PSTN number and the destination is simply a regular phone, you can still have a traditional voice call with no video.

CallerID also displays on the phone on an incoming call which was quite useful. I don't think it supports CallerID name as of yet though.

He mentioned J&R Music and Computer World is one of their larger resellers of Packet8 products which piqued my interest, since that is where my wife bought my Apple iPod. J&R typically has the best prices - so you should check them out when buying electronics.

I was hoping to capture a photo of the videoconference in progress but I left my digital camera at home. I'll edit this blog entry and re-post with the image, and maybe even a streaming video file of the videoconference as well, so you can see the quality. And of course voicemail and all the other typical Packet8 VoIP features are available on this phone.

Huw mentioned to me that they've done a lot of work to optimize the algorithms and even prioritize the voice before the video. It can even automatically throttle back the bandwidth utlization if the bandwidth changes. They also do an excellent job of handling and optimizing the jitter buffer, packet loss, and perform interpolation for lost packets.

The phone features a hands-free speakerphone as well as a high-quality microphone that connects in one of the ports in the back. The back of the phone also has a camera input, so you can connect your camcorder, DVD player, TV etc. and show streaming video of whatever you want! Stick in Lord of the Rings DVD and share it with a friend of your broadband connection. Let me say that again, "Beavis... This is the coolest thing I have ever seen..."

It even has video output jacks, so you can output the video to a VCR and record it. Wait, scratch that, VCRs are no longer hip - ok, how's this - "You can even output the video to a TiVo unit and record it."

If you buy this phone, you should also check out the Packet8 link titled Packet8 Videophone Etiquette: A Dozen Amusing Lessons

Packet8 VideoPhone retails for $299 for one, and $249 for two.
Click here for the Packet8 VideoPhone Specifications

Here's a snippet of the specs:
Standards
System: SIP
Audio: G.711, G.723.1
Video: H.261, H.263

Video
Built-in Video Input:

External Video Input:
One composite video input, NTSC
RCA connector
Input impedance: 75 OHM
Input signal level: 1 Vp-p into 75 OHM load

Network
Ethernet:
Two Switched Ethernet interface
Two RJ-45 connectors
IEEE 802.2/802.3u, 10/100, Half/Full Duplex Auto-negotiation

Key
Regular telephone keys (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, *, #, speakerphone, redial, mute/clear)
Navigation keys (up, down, left, right, M/confirm, clear/mute)
Hot Keys (define by software)

Dimension
9 3/4"(L) x 9 1/2"(W) x 5 1/2"(H)

External Video Output:
One composite video output, NTSC
RCA connector
Output impedance: 75 OHM
Output signal level: 1 Vp-p into 75 OHM load

Audio
Built-in Audio Input:
Handset
Hands-free speakerphone

External Audio Input:
One Line level audio input
RCA connector
Input impedance: > 30K OHM
Input signal level: 775 mv
One microphone input
Mini-headphone jack




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