Last October, Cisco unveiled ūmi, a consumer-oriented version of its business telepresence systems. It turned your HDTV into a very high-quality 1080p videophone, and it was neat. But at $599 for the system, plus $24.99 a month for service–times two, since it it assumed you knew at least one other family that owned one–it was too pricey to change the world. (I’ve only seen one in the wild–at the offices of a company that bought two so its Silicon Valley office could communicate with colleagues in Israel.)
Cisco made some announcements today that make it at least somewhat more likely that ūmi will show up soon in a living room near you. First, it knocked the price of the original version down from $599 to $499. Maybe more important, it slashed the price of monthly service from $24.99 to a more plausible $9.99. It also says it’s going to release a 720p version that will go for $399 and require less bandwidth. (3.5-Mbps up and down is recommended for the 1080p edition.) And it’ll offer free ūmi clients for Windows PCs and Macs so owners have more people to talk with.
I’m impressed with what I’ve seen of ūmi and think that consumer HD videoconferencing has a real future–using Cisco’s setup feels a bit like stepping into a distant living room in a way that old-style laptop videocalls and Apple’s FaceTime do not. Seems like the price might have to drop further, though, before any product in this category is a breakout hit. (For a total of $450, you can buy Logitech’s Revue Google TV box and TV Cam accessory, for 720P video calls with no service fee required–not as nice as ūmi at 108p, but fun.)