Cisco Systems is introducing an expensive residential videoconferencing system, dubbed "umi," that can deliver up to 1080p high-definition pictures -- a system that, if widely adopted, would stress the upstream capacity of many cable and DSL broadband networks.
But at least initially, the umi will be a pricey option, limiting its mass-market appeal. The product, to ship in mid-November, will carry a suggested retail price of $599, plus a monthly fee of $24.99 for unlimited calls and up to 100 minutes of video-message storage.
The Cisco umi requires a broadband connection with a minimum upload speed of 1.5 Mbps for video calls in standard-definition, and 3.5 Mbps upstream for 1080p HD calls. For cable, upload speeds have been an Achilles' heel, with upstream DOCSIS connectivity typically limited to the 5-42 MHz range.
Verizon Communications, eyeing an opportunity to exploit the upstream capacity of its FiOS fiber-to-the-home network, is working with Cisco to provide an umi option to FiOS Internet customers in early 2011. The two companies said they have conducted trials of the videoconferencing system over the FiOS network.
"We plan to be the first service provider to offer Cisco umi to our customers, delivering an amazingly clear and lifelike experience that brings family and friends into your living room," Verizon vice president of consumer product management Eric Bruno said in a statement.
The umi, a consumer version of Cisco's TelePresence Meeting product line for businesses, connects to an existing HD television and a broadband Internet connection. It can connect to users who don't have an umi through Google video chat, running on a PC with a webcam.
Cisco claims umi delivers an "immersive" video experience that automatically adjusts to lighting conditions and various room sizes to provide superior video and audio performance.
"Cisco umi will bring the unique telepresence experience into living rooms and change the way we are able to be together with family and friends," Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers said in a statement. "We envision a future where technologies like this will play a role in connecting consumers with businesses to enable the delivery of new services, ranging from education, to health care, to financial services -- to the home."
The Cisco umi is scheduled to be available for consumers to purchase on Nov. 14 in Best Buy stores, via bestbuy.com and from Cisco at http://umi.cisco.com. The product will be available to preorder Oct. 6 from Cisco and Oct. 18 from BestBuy.com.
This fall, Cisco will launch a marketing campaign around umi, including an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show; a national ad campaign featuring Juno star Ellen Page using the product; and a mall tour, starting Nov. 10, that will travel to more than 20 major malls across the U.S.