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Conferencing hits the big screen

Big-screen TVs might be popular for the holidays, but LiveWorks and PictureTel hope big-screen conference systems will become hot office tools in the first few months of 1997.

Tech Industry

Big-screen TVs might be popular for the holidays, but LiveWorks and PictureTel hope big-screen conference systems will become hot office tools in the first few months of 1997.

Both companies yesterday announced group conferencing products based on the T.120 data-sharing standard. The products feature oversized monitors that are easy to see in a group setting. Presenters or collaborating workers can write on the screens as if on a whiteboard, and the information can be shared with remote conferees over a network.

Available immediately, PictureTel's GroupBoard incorporates a 42-inch screen, a pen-and-eraser device, and a scanner for importing paper documents. Compatible with PictureTel's videoconferencing and application-sharing software, GroupBoard also lets users at remote locations collaborate on open files. The system also supports PC files swapped in by floppy disk or over a serial cable.

LiveWorks also makes a computer for conferencing. Called LiveBoard, it sports a 67-inch screen and an upgrade of the company's MeetingBoard collaboration software, which will run on top of Microsoft's NetMeeting 2.0, currently in beta.

MeetingBoard 5.0 will extend the basic whiteboard functionality of NetMeeting to work with the LiveBoard's pen interface. By pointing the pen at the screen, users will be able to draw, write, navigate the Web, and run Windows applications on LiveBoard. NetMeeting will provide the T.120 data-sharing and connectivity base for the applications. Like PictureTel's GroupBoard, LiveBoard can be expanded to support video conferencing.

GroupBoard has a list price of $18,995. MessageBoard 5.0 will be available in the first quarter of 1997. When bundled with the LiveBoard system, it will start at the base price of $34,900, with video conferencing support starting at an extra $15,000. For users who want to connect with a PC, a desktop version of MessageBoard 5.0 will also be available for $199.

Many analysts have flagged 1997 as the turning year for the desktop video conferencing market, which has differing standards based on ISDN, regular telephone, and LAN network technologies. However, the new H.323 standard for video and audio includes support for the T.120 technology and is quickly gaining acceptance, according to one analyst.

"Over the past eight weeks, the major players in the desktop market are adopting H.323 and working on gateways to talk to the H.320 [ISDN-based] world," said Elliot Gold, editor of the industry newsletter TeleSpan. "They think the market is desktop clients on a LAN."

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