Picasso paints pretty pictures by telephone
By JAMES RILEY
HONGKONG Telecom CSL has launched a new still-image video-telephone system that allows for transmission of high-quality colour pictures over a standard telephone line.
The new Picasso phone system, developed by AT&T, allows an image captured by video camcorder, or taken directly from a video recorder, to be sent to a remote site and displayed on a television set.
The system - which is housed in casing essentially the same as that of a standard telephone system - allows the image to be manipulated via mouse input at both ends, and for the two parties to talk to each other at the same time.
Picasso is an interesting phone option that could find itself a healthy niche in Hong Kong. The image quality of the system is excellent, and transmission speeds (via a standard 14.4-Kbps modem) fairly fast - a high-resolution picture can be sent in about 40 seconds.
The phone's most interesting feature is the fact that it is based on analogue technology - an intriguing ''advantage'' for Hong Kong, which boasts probably the only 100 per cent digital telephone system in the world.
Because although digital technology is ultimately the way of the future, by allowing transmission over the analogue circuits, Picasso becomes a more flexible option. If your communications partner is in China on an analogue telephone circuit, all the digital sophistication in the world is not going to help.
Hongkong Telecom CSL products market general manager Richard Yu expects a large portion of Picasso customers to be Hong Kong firms that have manufacturing facilities in China. The system provides those users with a relatively inexpensive way to use the analogue public-switched telephone network (PSTN) to instantly ''inspect'' products and prototypes of China-based facilities.
Given the pricing of the Picasso system, it is clearly designed as a niche product. Each Picasso terminal will retail at HK$32,000 (and obviously you need one at both ends of a call for it to function).
Interface software allows images to be dumped directly from Picasso into a Windows-based PC, from which hard-copy of the image can be produced via a colour printer. PC interface software is priced at an additional $4,054.
''We see Picasso being used by manufacturers, traders and designers to present their concepts and models,'' said Mr Yu. ''By actually seeing what is under discussion, the two parties on the phone will be able to communicate their ideas far more effectively.''