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CeBIT 2006: Americans in Hannover
The world’s largest technology show didn’t disappoint this year, with compelling advances in VoIP, display, and optical storage pointing towards the future.
by Tim Siglin

Pride in attending large shows in the U.S.—such as NAB or CES in Las Vegas, which each boast over 100,000 participants—gave way to awe in Hannover as more than four times that many participants attended CeBIT 2006 in Hannover. And while CES tickles the fancy of the U.S. market, CeBIT continues to expand its dominant role as the world’s showcase for consumer and enterprise telephony, video, and streaming technologies. Here’s a look at some of the high points.

Pay No Attention to the Face in the Phone
Several smaller U.S. companies of note could be found in Hall 13, which focuses on the dual VoIP solutions—video and voice. Two companies from Texas caught the attention of many showgoers with their streaming video/videoconferencing offerings.

The first, attracting attention for more reasons than the two Steston-wearing models manning the in-booth bar, was Viseon. The Dallas-based company, which announced its video telephony Visifone at CES 2005 and has met with nominal success, has decided to move beyond the traditional videophone and incorporate streaming capabilities.

The overhauled new phone, which sports a $99 price tag when bundled with a two-year commitment from a carrier ($399 if purchased without a carrier commitment) can stream movie trailers, weather reports, and news clips as well as be connected to an external monitor to allow multi-party phone—err, video—conferences.

Still, as the Wall Street Journal mentioned in a recent article, the biggest leap for videophones may be consumer reticence. Many consumers are reluctant to embrace videophones, and the article notes that "the market for stand-alone videophones is still small in the U.S., industry analysts say, mainly because many customers don't feel comfortable talking in front of a camera."

CEO John Harris notes that Viseon also plans a cordless version at some future date, which in the European market would combine the strengths of digital enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) cordless phones with Viseon’s expertise in video telephony.

Another Texas-based company showed the opposite extreme in videoconferencing. Using an H.264 chipset solution provided by an Indian partner, Austin-based LifeSize showed off a full-motion 720p videoconferencing solution that looked remarkably good for system that uses a best-effort public Internet approach. The company’s solutions begin around $12,000—which is higher than average but in line with competitors’ room systems. LifeSize intends their product to be integrated into a boardroom or conference room where multiple participants would gather and need to view images and video in higher resolution than a small group or individual system would allow. LifeSize demonstrated multiple-party calls, simultaneously linking Austin and an off-site European sales office with the LifeSize unit at the CeBIT booth of MVC, a LifeSize integration partner in Europe.

I Can See Clearly Now
As noted by my colleague, Christine Perey, in "CeBIT 2006: Action at the Extremes", the large-panel display market still has room for growth. Beyond the size of the monitors now, which are reaching 100 to 102 inches in both LCD and plasma variants, the companies are stepping back to the small screens and providing significant quality enhancements. Samsung and Sharp both showed off LCDs and plasmas in the 42- to 60-inch range that finally provide true HDTV specifications, with native resolutions of 1920x1080 and ability to play back both progressive and interlaced content at this resolution. The resulting image is what everyone hoped for in the early days of plasma, when native resolutions were only 800x600 or 1024x768. These new widescreen models may very well set the bar for video reference monitoring.