Video Conferencing in a Box

Tuesday Jan 9th 2001 by SmallBusinessComputing Staff

MAX I.C.Live Video Communication Station -- Rating 81

by Steve Bennett

MAX I.C.Live Video Communication Station
Rating 81

Are we there yet? This is the question asked by many business people waiting for the dawning of the Age of Videoconferencing. The answer: we're getting closer. And the MAX i.c.Live Video Communication Station (VCS) is good evidence of that.

At first glance, the VCS looks like a stereo component. In fact, the VCS is a full-blown computer that sports a 400 MHz Celeron processor, 64MB RAM, a 6GB hard disk, network card, and a proprietary sound/video card. While it has all the trappings of a PC, it's designed exclusively to do four things: send and receive video mail (viewable with Windows Media Player), conduct basic videoconferencing using Microsoft's Net Meeting, send and receive Web video broadcasts over the Internet, and surf the Web like a conventional PC.

The unit ships with an infrared keyboard and mouse, a 30-frame-per-second video camera, and microphone. Behind the VCS is an array of outputs for connecting to a television via composite or S-Video cable, or to a standard SVGA monitor.

Although the camera and microphone that ship with the unit seem quite basic, the VCS delivers surprisingly good quality. (Higher-end components may also be used.) If using a television, the S-Video cable will make a significant difference.

The VCS software is ingeniously simple and completely shields the user from Windows. However, this can be somewhat annoying when trying to access certain advanced settings. Once the network settings are configured, it only takes a few minutes to send video across the Internet or communicate in real time (albeit with a 15-second delay) to others who don't have a VCS unit.

One gripe is the wireless mouse. It has more buttons and controls than the cockpit of a 747 and takes a considerable amount of time getting used to. A more serious concern is the network setup. It might be difficult to use the unit behind a firewall, and the ISP must support the H.323 Web protocol for the VCS to work. If not, it will send videomail or videocasts, but not engage in videoconferencing.

Although a similar system could be pieced together from low-end components that serve other purposes, the advantage of the VCS is that it seamlessly integrates hardware and software to focus solely on video-conferencing. If your company is looking for an easy way to communicate, the VCS is worth considering.

MAX I.C.Live Video Communication Station
Maxinternet Communications