Videophones have been promised since AT&T showed them at the 1964 World’s Fair.  They haven’t quite caught on as predicted.  I have recently completed evaluating two different products that, for some of you, can change all that.

Of the two, the simpler, less expensive solution is from Vialta, called Beamer, and billed as a “Phone Video Station.”  (Watch the DEMO.)  A pair of these stylish devices goes for $500.  It just does not get any simpler than with Beamer.  Unpack, plug in the power supply, unplug the phone from the wall and plug it in to the appropriate spot on the back of Beamer, then plug in the supplied phone cord from the other slot on the back of Beamer to the phone jack in the wall.

Vialta is not interested in selling you a phone.  You probably have one you like, be it wired or cordless.  They just want to provide the video link to you.  Now, I assume you have made arrangements and sent the other Beamer in the pair to its recipient.  The other party has to do the same set-up as you.  Instructions are provided for connection in a single-line environment as well as a two-line environment.

By the way, Beamer is compatible with any other videophone meeting the H.324 International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standard.

Now, call the other party.  Either answer the phone as normal, or, after you figure out who is calling, if it is your Beamer Buddy, select one of three viewing options from the right side of Beamer – Self View, View the other party, or Combo View.  The images appear in the 3.5-inch Active Matrix screen.  It is best to use Beamer in a well-lit environment, so some experimentation may be needed in order to find what works best.  The better your phone lines, the better, and faster will be the motion you see in the Beamer screen.  If, for example, you connect to the Internet at a dismal dial-up rate of only 26.4 kbps, motion will consist of jumpy, slow to refresh images.  This is to be expected, however, regardless of the device used is the phone lines are that bad.  On the other hand, seeing grandma or, alternatively, the joy of seeing even a still image of relatives or far-off friends cannot be measured in normal terms.  A push of a button will also grab and display a still image if you wish.  For privacy, the video can also be discontinued and switched off.

Beamer is attractive, simple to set-up and to use, and easy to get used to.  At $500 for the pair, it is the least expensive solution in its category and it works very well!  Don’t’ expect high-quality TV-like images (from this or any similar device) and you will not be disappointed.  More information about Beamer is at the link above or call 510-870-3088.

If you want additional capabilities, read on.  I also tested the Vizufon video telephone, available from FranklinCoveyVizufon sells for $500 each and, of course, a pair are required for video feature, unless the other party has one of those devices also complying to the same ITU standard as described above.

These are devices that are phones with built-in video.  The screen, like on the Beamer, can tilt to a comfortable angle.  Connection is simple and straightforward.  The phone features a 30-number speed dial directory, full-duplex speakerphone capability, and it supports caller ID, if the user is a subscriber to this service.

Vizufon also features a few interesting extras.  For example, there are audio and video jacks on-board.  Plug in a camcorder and send video – with sound! – to the other end!  It’s not full-streaming video because your phone lines do not support speeds needed to do that, but in my tests, it’s better than no video at all, and your relatives will be impressed with being able to see at least something of the videos you send in this way.  There is also a surveillance function wherein a call to that phone can be automatically answered, triggering the video to start, allowing the caller to see what is going on at the other end.  This may be useful for checking in on ailing, far-off relatives.

Video setting include full-screen of either side of the call or split screen with a bit of both ends shown.  For privacy, the video portion can be denied or discontinued after startup, and then the device functions as a plain old phone.  More information is at the link above or call 1-800-877-1814.

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