November 1, 2004 5:20 AM PST

New videophone highlights dropping prices

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Avaya and Polycom unveiled on Monday an Internet videophone for businesses, adding to a growing lineup of more affordable, easier-to-use gear of the sort once seen only in newspaper comic strips.

Networking gear maker Avaya will sell camera maker Polycom's ViaVideo II video camera for PCs, packaged with an Avaya Softphone. The combo is designed to let people make video or phone calls by dialing someone's number from an IM-like window on a PC. If the recipient's setup is also video-enabled, the call goes through as video. If not, the call automatically switches to voice only.

At $429 for the phone and software, the Polycom-Avaya endeavor highlights the plummeting price of videophones, and how they're becoming much easier to set up and use. Just a half decade ago, videoconferencing systems were $40,000, came with a 30-plus-inch screen that required an IT staffer to set up and operate, and used traditional phone networks. Now, it's the norm to find sub-$400 videophones and unlimited video calling via the Internet for $30 a month, and the gear plugs into most laptops or routers.

Along with Avaya, Net-phone provider Packet8 sells a videophone that plugs into most routers for $360 if purchased with a Packet8 video and broadband telephone calling plan. Do-it-yourselfers can find cheaper videophones by searching eBay, where $200 was the highest bid on a pair of Vialta Beamer BM-80 videophones a day before auction's end.

Who now uses videophones and the accompanying tools to allow any number of people to collaborate on, say, the design of a PowerPoint presentation?

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