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Videoconferencing has long been restricted to niche markets such as White House national-security briefings, corporate boardrooms, and reruns of The Jetsons. D-Link's DVC-1000 i2eye videophone may change all that. This $300 standalone device lets you make video-enabled calls over a broadband Internet connection--no PC required.
The silver-colored, plastic DVC-1000 is low-slung and slightly larger than a VHS videotape, designed to sit unobtrusively on top of your TV. The back-panel Ethernet port provides a connection to your network; to go wireless, consider buying an Ethernet-to-wireless bridge, such as D-Link's own DWL-810+. Also on the back are standard monaural-audio and composite-video outputs that link to the television.
A small, centered lens takes in all the action, while either the built-in mike or an external one connected via minijack handles half-duplex, speakerphone-style audio input. Attaching an ordinary telephone facilitates superior full-duplex interaction and easy dialing. You can maneuver through the onscreen menus with the included simple wireless remote.
Because the DVC-1000 operates independently of a computer, setup requires no software or remote programming from a connected PC, though initially, you may have to adjust your router or corporate firewall. The onscreen guide takes you through the process step by step in just a few minutes.
To place a call, you either dial directly or select an entry from the customized onscreen speed-dial list. Thanks to D-Link's free directory service, you can reach fellow i2eye users by entering their names and phone numbers; once you input your own information, it's automatically mapped to your network's static or dynamic IP address. The DVC-1000 worked as advertised, providing two-way, real-time streaming video and audio. As with better than average Webcam fare, quality was good enough but hindered by artifacts and syncing delays, which were noticeable at window resolutions and even more so at full screen.
The DVC-1000's greatest strength is its complete lack of fees and long-distance charges. But don't drop your local phone company just yet. Unlike commercial voice-over-IP services such as Vonage, the DVC-1000 does not offer a bridge to the standard telephone network; the unit can interact with only other videophones and PC clients using the H.323 protocol. Furthermore, we and our callers at first had to dial by IP address because our first-generation NetGear RT311 router couldn't be properly configured for the directory service. Switching to a D-Link DI-604 solved the problem, and most newer routers should work fine. Like all other networked devices, the DVC-1000 is useless when your broadband goes on the fritz.
If you're PC-centric, you'll probably want to stick with a more-affordable Webcam setup. But for living-room and workplace videoconferencing, the DVC-1000 delivers a credible solution. We'd just like to see the asking price come down a bit.