Intel aims PC video phone at consumer market

Intel has announced a video telephone designed to run over standard phone lines and to let people see who they are calling from their PC.

Intel's Video Phone, based on the company's ProShare videoconferencing technology, will be incorporated into home PCs running at speeds of 133 MHz or above, Intel officials say.

Compaq will be offering the Video Phone in its Presario consumer PC line starting in the middle of the year, and several other PC manufacturers will be announcing shortly that they will build the videoconferencing technology into their machines, Intel officials say.

The Video Phone conforms to the H.324 international telecommunications standard and thus will work with any similar standards-based video phone system, officials say.

The Intel product consists of video phone software, modem, video capture hardware and camera, and runs over one standard phone line, officials say.

In contrast, Intel's ProShare videoconferencing requires Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), a high-bandwidth data and voice telecommunications service that is expensive and not available in all areas.

Running over standard phone lines is both a boon and a limitation, says Kathy Melcher, an Intel spokeswoman. Video quality tops out on machines running at 166 MHz, Melcher says. At higher speeds, the analogue phone line itself inhibits the quality of the video, she says.

At four to 12 frames per second, Video Phone's video quality is "not as good as what you would get over a digital network like ISDN", says Stacey O'Hara, an Intel spokeswoman. But "even if the quality is not out of this world", it's acceptable to friends and family who want to stay in touch, O'Hara says.

Some observers are less sanguine about the frame rate.

"It's childish, it's pretty low quality," says Elliot Gold, an analyst with Altadena, California-based Telespan Publishing. Frame rates of under 10 frames per second are tiring to watch, Gold says.

However, Gold's own market estimates reveal why Intel and others are climbing aboard the video phone bandwagon. In 1995, 91,000 desktop video systems were sold worldwide, but the level will climb in 1996 to 300,000 units for the business market and 450,000 systems for the consumer market, Gold says.

Those kinds of sales figures get PC manufacturers' attention.

"What Compaq wants to do is take the next step in multimedia PCs," Gold says. "Videoconferencing is the CD-ROM of Christmas 1996."

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