Cellular video? It shows promise

Cellular video? It shows promise

By Greg Bluestein, The Associated Press
Saturday, August 4, 2007 – Page updated at 02:03 AM


My cellphone flickered to life in the middle of a rowdy party, and seconds later, my fiancée’s face brightened up the screen.

"Sorry I couldn’t make it," she said. "I wish I was there."

She wasn’t physically at the party, but her presence — or at least
her agony at being stuck in the office — was felt, thanks to AT&T’s
new Video Share service. As I panned my phone around the table, I saw how this technology can come in handy.

The service, which AT&T claims is the first to pipe live video
from one cellphone to another, worked well. Still, you can’t quite call
it a "video phone" because Video Share is only a one-way link, meaning
one party can see the other but not vice versa at the same time.

AT&T has started offering Video Share to most of its 160 markets
(including the Seattle area) where it has third-generation wireless
service. It works on only four phone models so far — iPhone users need
not apply — and only when the phones are within range of the company’s
3G network.

The phones cost anywhere from $25 to $130 (with rebates), and the
service runs about 35 cents a minute. Two plans offer cheaper options —
one with 25 minutes for $4.99 a month and another with 60 minutes for
$9.99 a month. The company says most subscribers use it for one or two
minutes at a time.

It’s fairly simple to use. Once a call between two Video
Share-capable phones is connected, a prompt appears if both are in
AT&T’s 3G network. The caller who decides to initiate the
connection controls the video camera, and both phones instantly snap
into speaker mode.

The company sees great potential. Aside from the obvious uses for
doting parents, it will also be marketed to real-estate agents and
insurance adjusters as a new business tool. And, as AT&T CEO
Randall Stephenson hinted at a telecom trade show, the service could be
expanded to PC and TV screens.

But first some kinks need to be worked out. We were using the
Samsung A717, a snazzy flip phone that easily fit into my pocket and
got lost in my fiancée’s purse. But the phone’s speaker was nearly
impossible to hear in a noisy or crowded setting.

We also found it was sometimes frustratingly difficult to stay
connected. Even when both phones were receiving strong signals, the
video link occasionally dropped out with little warning, particularly
when one of the callers was indoors.

The video reception also can be halting or pixelated, like streaming a Web video on a less-than-blazing Internet connection.

The camera’s range can be perplexing, too. One night, some friends
thought it would be funny to show my fiancée a racy billboard while we
were playing trivia at a local bar. She could see the lit-up billboard
clearly even though it was 25 feet away (she didn’t think it was so
funny), but she said she could hardly see the more dimly lit table of
friends within an arm’s length of my phone.

Despite the pitfalls, I found plenty of uses for Video Share during the five days I experimented with it.

I was able to show a colleague stuck in the office the happy scenes
from Atlanta’s Centennial Park, flash video of traffic-choked streets
to my fiancée and watch a glimpse of a TV show from a roommate fooling
around with the phone at home.

If this is the prelude to the video phone, I’m eager to see what
cellphone providers have in store for us next. Whatever it is, though,
I hope it includes a decent light for dimly lit close-ups.

Q-Bean

Audio Systems

www.q-bean.com $120

Go ahead and pace. With the wireless Q-Bean, you can listen to music
and make calls from your computer while walking around the house. The
package includes a 2.4-gigahertz digital radio frequency transmitter
that connects to a USB port on a computer and a wireless receiver with
a built-in microphone, remote-control functions and a jack for its ear
buds.

The Q-Bean has a range of about 150 feet and works with Windows
Media Player, Media Center, iTunes, Skype and other popular computer
applications. The Q-Bean-ST, a stereo version with a battery-operated
transmitter for MP3 players, TVs and other electronic gear, is $130.

— Deborah Porterfield

Gannett News Service

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