Video conferencing runs without Internet, but has...


April 05, 1999

Video conferencing runs without Internet, but has shortcomings

Web-based video conferencing, using the increasingly popular and inexpensive monitor-top camera, is fun, but has remained largely a novelty. The picture looks like something out of a Fisher-Price toy camera and frequent dropouts of image and sound are common.

Every time a new home video conferencing system comes out, I eagerly await the next generation of quality and usefulness.

It was with this anticipation that I decided to review InnoMedia's InfoView system ($349.95). This TV-top unit has a built-in 36.6-kbps modem and does not require a Net connection. You attach it to your TV set and telephone, and you're in business. When you dial another phone that has an InfoView unit (or another video system that meets the industry's H.324 standard), a modem-to-modem connection is made and voila, there's Grandma in her favorite rocker.

This sounds ideal until you make your first connection. We experienced annoying voice and image loss. The quality is good when it's working (especially because you're sitting across the room from the camera) but frustrating when it's not.

Even with these intermittent reception problems, we enjoyed using the InfoView and would love to see all of our friends and family outfitted with them. This is an especially useful conferencing solution for those who don't own a computer or for a small business that can't afford more expensive hardware.

For the quality, $350 is high. When the price drops below $300 and the quality gets a bit better, you may find yourself having to get dressed and presentable just to answer the phone. Maybe that's not such a good thing.

Information: 888-251-6250 or

Sharp TelMail device for e-mail access anywhere

When we reviewed the JVC PocketMail device in What's Hot a few months ago, we thought it looked like promising technology that had bugs to work out and lacked some critical features.

The wizards at Sharp have answered our prayers with their version of the gadget, TelMail. The $149 unit works the same way as JVC's: You compose your mail on the hand-held unit, dial an 800 number, hold the TelMail against the phone handset, and your mail is uploaded and downloaded. Because the device doesn't use a modem, it works with almost any type of phone. The PocketMail service is $9.95 a month.

The TelMail design is much better than JVC's unit. First, the phone connector on the back doesn't have to be adjusted each time you use it. A memo pad and calendar are built in and you can cut and paste between messages. Using the bundled PC backup-and-restore software, you can communicate with your desktop or laptop computer.

The TelMail also has a better keyboard, a slimmer case, and a cooler all-around design. Bravo, Sharp! Some designer there is actually paying attention .Information: 800-447-9469 or

-- Gareth Branwyn

You can find full reviews of these and other neat gadgets at

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