Picture perfect

Videoconferencing has come a long way from the jumpy, grainy pictures and poor sound of just a few years ago. Quality has improved dramatically, and the devices themselves are doing more than just video calls.

”One of the major problem areas we set out to correct was one of value,” says Ned Semonite, vice president of marketing for PictureTel, a videoconferencing equipment manufacturer. ”Companies that bought the devices felt they weren’t being used enough. They used big monitors, and it was obvious when they weren’t being used because they were these big dark things sitting in the corner.”

As a result, PictureTel has designed a system based on a PC architecture that can do more than just show pictures.

”It can be used as a meeting room or collaboration tool,” says Semonite.

The device can also be used as a stand-alone conference room PC to support Web browsing, project planning, presentations or sales forecasting when not in use in a videoconference.

One of the other major drawbacks to videoconferencing was in sharing information.

”The technology was showing faces and hearing what they had to say, but getting information from one location to another in a form where people could see it proved problematic,” says Semonite.

Now there is the capability to transmit information from whatever electronic format it’s in — such as a Word document or a PowerPoint presentation — and make it possible for people on the other end to see it at a high resolution. You plug your laptop into a small device and press one button to send data through.

You can view data either separately on another monitor or in a way similar to picture-in-picture technology on your television, with the people in a smaller frame on the same screen. Everything is viewed in real time. Web browsing is also possible, so that two groups of people at different sites can see a Web-based presentation or view Web pages.

”These systems save hours in your day,” says Semonite. ”We surveyed our users, and 70 percent said the system paid for itself within six months and 90 percent within a year.” How to reach: www.picturetel.com