Would you pay $600 (and an extra $25 a month) to have a video conferencing option for your living room television? Cisco, traditionally a supplier of enterprise video conferencing and networking hardware, is hoping you’ll say yes and pick up its newest toy.
The Umi (pronounced you-me) telepresence is a powerful webcam that sits on top of a television and is connected to the internet to enable video conferencing. It’s Cisco’s first true play to the typical consumer after being a dominant player in big-business hardware for most of its life. And it’s a last-ditch effort to salvage the holiday season after the company lowered its expectations for sales in the fourth quarter.
But that price point is simply baffling. There are already a number of other options available for home teleconferencing. Logitech is selling a Google TV enabled set-top box with an HD camera for about $450. XBox 360 owners can go pick up Microsoft’s Kinect camera for $150 and use it for home teleconferencing. Even those without an XBox 360 can go pick up the device and Kinect for around $350 — and get a video game console in the process!
I had a chance to try out the newest teleconferencing offering from Cisco a little while ago, and I was quite impressed with the actual technology. The camera is powerful and it does have a number of useful features, like streaming video in high-definition. The image is very clear and there’s almost no lag between callers, provided your Internet connection is fast enough. In addition to calling other Umi owners, the Umi device can also connect to any computer with a web-enabled camera — though it’ll be at a lower resolution.
Umi owners can use it to leave voicemail messages and greetings when they aren’t around to answer calls. Users can also shift the camera around to focus on certain parts of their living room. And for the privacy nuts, there’s a shutter that covers the camera when it’s not in use.
The price point is really telling. There is a very large disconnect between the consumer space and enterprise hardware providers like Cisco. The hardware is clearly more powerful, but that’s not always what consumers are looking for. There are simply too many other options for casual video conferencing users out there that have more features to justify the Cisco Umi at this point.