Media

Cisco announces new video communications tech geared toward consumer

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Cisco, a name typically associated with large businesses’ networking needs, announced today that it is making a move into the consumer marketplace with its new Umi video-conferencing technology.

The new tech, pronounced “you-me”, allows consumers to directly connect a video conferencing application to their televisions and streamlines video conferencing for the every day user.  Users plug the device into their high-definition television, setting up a camera that sits on the television and a box that can connect to the Internet wirelessly or over a wired broadband connection. The service will cost $600 for the device and $24.99 a month for unlimited calling, video recording and video messaging.

The user interface on televisions is the Umi Clover, which “shows up when you need it” on the top right of the television’s screen, said Gina Clark, vice president and general manager of Umi Telepresence. When users want to make a call, they select the picture of the person they want to call by scrolling through pictures in the clover. There’s also a privacy shutter on the camera that closes, for all the security junkies that want to prevent others from snooping. Umi users can also record video greetings and get mobile alerts when they receive a call while they aren’t able to respond.  Cisco is working with Google to use Google video chat to contact Umi users, and vice versa.

“This product was not built by an enterprise team,” said Marthin De Beer, senior vice president of emerging business technology for Cisco. “We went out and created a new startup where the members of that team came from the best consumer companies in the world.”

Cisco has been a huge name in the enterprise business for a majority of its life, including video-conferencing technology. Cisco has also been a presence in home networking with its wireless routers, a market it entered by acquiring Linksys in 2003 and expanded its presence in by acquiring set-top maker Scientific Atlanta in 2005.

The enterprise giant’s push into the consumer space just goes to show how large the consumer market is. Cisco spent more than two years going into peoples’ homes and designing the technology based on changing lighting conditions, size and other elements that vary drastically from home to home, Clark said.

“This market transition will be about the pervasive use of video,” De Beer said. “More than 15 billion video-capable networked devices will be connected in the next few years.”

The new move brings Cisco up to speed with other consumer-oriented video communication companies like Skype and Apple’s iChat in its OS X operating system. Cisco is sparing no expense in its marketing for Umi, partnering with the Oprah Winfrey show to use Umi Telepresence for remote guests. Their traditional advertising campaigns including Ellen Page will also now include Umi, and Cisco is rolling out demo products in malls across the country.

Umi will be sold at Best Buy with an official launch set for November 14. Cisco will also launch Umi for Verizon Fiber Optics customers next year.