CES: Creative Labs woos small businesses with inPerson video conferencing

By Ted Kritsonis, Special to CBCNews.ca

LAS VEGAS - In a surprising shift for a very consumer-focused company, Creative Labs is hoping to garner attention from small business and SOHO customers seeking a video conferencing option.

The inPerson system looks a little like an opened mini-notebook computer, but is actually a portable video conferencing tool that can accommodate multiple participants. The 7-inch LCD screen displays a standard resolution of 640-by- 480 in both the NTSC and PAL video formats. The signal can be sent to a flat-panel display or projector for a better viewing experience, particularly since the system can be used by a roomfull of people. The audio can be outputted to a set of external speakers, too.


The inPerson lets people communicate with other inPerson systems, or with anyone that has a webcam (as long as they have inPerson software installed on their PC). Telephone calls to mobile and landline phones can be done through the system as well if you want to conference-in someone who isn't at a computer.

The catch to all this is that inPerson requires a monthly service plan, and those calls out to mobile and landlines will "be a very low cost perminute," according to the company. No definitive monthly service price has been set for Canada yet, however. Createive says inPerson-to-inPerson and webcam calls will be free (with a monthly service plan, of course).

Being Wi-Fi-enabled (on 802.11b and g), adds to the inPerson's portability, and from what I saw at CES the controls seem to be laid out in a simple way that anyone should be able to understand. Up to four webcams can take part in a video conference at one time, and another two connections can be added via audio only.

There's also an SD card slot on the side of the inPerson for uploading content, except that its application seems
to be limited at the moment to sharing photos.

It's hard to say how well this product might do, given the various voice-over-IP (VoIP) and video conferencing options already out there that are software-based and don't require special hardware. The cost of the inPerson hardware is expected to be in the $700 US range, which can be pricey for some small businesses, not to mention the residual costs of a monthly service plan and long-distance charges.

The inPerson is expected to launch in Canada in the spring, though no definite date has been confirmed yet.

The author is a Toronto-based freelance writer