New Video Calling Systems Not Ready for Primetime

Are we finally ready for home video calls?

family watching tv
family watching tv

Cisco and Logitech hope so – this week both unveiled new systems that hook your TV to the Internet and turn couch potatoes into chat potatoes.

I checked out demos of the systems, which will be available in time for the holidays. Both seem to work, though Cisco’s had a gorgeous picture and very little audio delay.

A couple of flaws in both, though:

The first problem: They’re expensive. Cisco’s is $600, then $25 a month – so $900 for the first year. Let’s pause and think about just how expensive that is. It’s the price of a capable new laptop, or a dishwasher, or a 40-inch flat-screen TV. Those are some of the biggest-ticket items most families buy.

Logitech’s Revue box with a camera costs half that, at $450, no subscription. That’s better, but still by no means cheap. Of course, to get the full experience, you’ve gotta buy two of these unless you like talking to yourself. (Both Logitech’s Revue and Cisco’s Umi can connect to outside video chat services on PCs or Macs.)

The second problem: They’re too hard to set up.

Cisco’s requires a computer and a credit card to get going. (The credit card is for banking the $25 monthly fee.) You need to fire up the computer and register the device, then enter your card info. What do you get for the $25 monthly fee? Basically you get a package of services, the most unique of which is video voicemail. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want video voicemail for $25 a month. Chances are, you’re going to call someone on the phone anyway before you try to do a video chat session. If they’re not home, they’re not home. You’ll just leave them a voicemail, for free.

The Logitech box is no breeze to set up, either. The missing element: How to get people into your contact list. For geeks who are used to setting up PC video chat services like Skype, it’s relatively simple. But for a home entertainment appliance, the bar is higher – especially since this targets the mainstream consumer. When Logitech demoed the setup and connection process, it felt awkward and involved a lap keyboard and a decent amount of navigation.

The competition for both? Probably Apple’s new iPod Touch , which does FaceTime videoconferencing over WiFi. It’s just $229 – so you can buy two for the price of one Logitech setup – and connecting is about as easy as making a phone call.

Questions? Comments? And you can follow Jon Fortt on Twitter @jonfortt