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Cisco Umi Telepresence

Make (Expensive) HD Video Calls With the Umi Telepresence

This morning in San Francisco, Cisco invited the press to come and "taste the chocolate" of its new product. Unfortunately for my sweet tooth, there was no actual chocolate, but there was a pretty cool product in its stead. The company unveiled the Umi Telepresence — a sophisticated video chatting system that allows you to use the HD TV you already own to talk to the people you love.

Coming with an HD video cam, a set-top box, and a remote, the Umi (pronounced Yoo-Me) delivers outstanding video quality over your broadband Internet without virtually any lag (latency is only around 200 milliseconds). Setup is easy, too — just plug in the camera to your console, plug the console into your TV set, and connect to the Internet via WiFi or Ethernet cable. Voila!

Want to learn more about the Umi, its features, and price? Then just read more.

What It Is
The Umi allows you and your friends to call each other directly without ever leaving the sofa. Just pick up the remote and use the Umi navigational "clover" to flip through your contacts and make calls. Currently you can make Umi-to-Umi calls, but if you're a Mac or PC user, you can also call your Umi-equipped pals with Google Video Chat. Umi doesn't communicate with any other video chat service (like iChat or Skype), so you're limited on who you can talk to for now.


Umi Features

  • Privacy controls to limit who can call you directly, who can call you, and a privacy shutter so you can block the view into your home.
  • All the cables you'll need right in the box. No running out to buy an HDMI cable!
  • Record fun videos and post them directly to YouTube and Facebook, or send them out to friends via email.
  • Included video messaging service, so you'll never miss a call.
  • Included Umi web portal to check your messages from the road on your laptop.
  • The web cam rotates, pans, and zooms with a few clicks of the remote.

Need-to-Know Details
The web cam itself sits on the top of your TV with an adjustable back to fit sets big and small and streams video in full HD (1020p and 720p) quality. The camera also comes with auto focus and white balance so your video will be as clear and crisp as possible. The set-top box is pretty sizable, so you'll want to make sure you have room on your TV stand for this alongside any other boxes (cable, Blu-ray, and gaming consoles) you may have. Also, you will need an HD TV and broadband Internet service to operate the Umi.

Pricing and Availability
The Umi is priced at $599 for all three components (camera, set-top box, and remote) and will set you back $25 a month for the subscription service, which gets you unlimited calls, video messaging, web portal access, and video storage. It's available for preorder now through Best Buy and Magnolia Audio but will be ready to pick up and ship on Nov. 14.

Final Thoughts
Taking into account that you can only make Umi-to-Umi or Umi-to-Google-Video calls makes the price seem a bit rich for my blood, but if you're really into video calling with family around the country, it could be a nice investment. The demos showed that the video quality is super crisp, and lag really wasn't a problem. Hey, even Oprah is switching out her Skype video calls for the Umi during her last season! So tech-savvy, that Oprah.

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