Videoconferencing venture may put homes in picture

Videoconferencing could soon be moving into the home as features are added to a range of consumer products following an alliance between market leader PictureTel and chip giant Intel.

Frazer Hamilton, PictureTel's vice-president for worldwide sales, said that under the alliance, PictureTel would become the worldwide distributor of Intel's PC-based videoconferencing products.

The two companies would also co-operate on new product development. Intel recently invested US$30.5 million in PictureTel.

Intel also sells the ProShare Video System 500, which hooks up to a desktop PC to deliver audio and videoconferencing over either an integrated services digital network (ISDN) line or a local area network (LAN).

PictureTel is best known for larger stand-alone videoconferencing equipment, which is also used by companies and enables everyone in the room to view the broadcast images.

Mr Hamilton said: 'The Intel products are very complementary to our existing product range, and beneficial to our customers.' He said that as new applications for videoconferencing emerge, the number of appliances that include video conferencing would increase. For instance, cable modems or televisions could soon have videoconferencing capabilities.

He said the consumer market was the real interest for both companies, and there was a strong possibility they would begin to develop products for that market, based on Intel's PC-based products.

Such products could start appearing by the end of 2000, said Mr Hamilton, and would be priced at $200 or lower.

However, he stressed joint research and development was still in the early stages.

In terms of business applications, companies were moving towards greater use of video collaboration, where employees working on the same project had shared files displayed on their screens.

'It changes the way companies operate,' Mr Hamilton said.

Under the agreement, PictureTel would take over the distribution of Intel's TeamStation system, which was designed for video collaboration.

Mr Hamilton said Intel's investment in PictureTel was not the first step towards a takeover. He said the investment, equal to 10.5 per cent of the company's stock, was an indication that this was a serious commitment.

He said: 'They're concentrating on their core competencies, and we're concentrating on ours.'