Those looking to stay in contact without actually making contact have a host of vendors waiting to hook them up with a new video phone. Several Taiwanese companies have been producing video phones for a few years, essentially adding a screen and a camera to the otherwise humble telephone handsets. Leadtek Research says enquiries for its video phone rose 60 per cent last month, with transactions for some lines up 30 per cent. 'I foresee an increase again this month, because Sars is an ongoing problem,' said David Lin, sales manager of Leadtek's Communication Products Business Unit. Video phone vendors are making products for a variety of standards. The most popular and easy to use is the public switched telephone networks (PSTN) standard, which uses the H.324 protocol and is also known as POTS, which stands for plain old telephone service. Leadtek's MetaEye324TM PSTN-compatible (H.324) video phone can be set up in the following steps: plug in the power, plug in the television or monitor, plug in the phone line and then connect to the handset. Making a video call is easy, just dial the number and wait for the other person to answer. If they have an industry-standard (H.324) video phone, then the receiver need only press a few buttons to turn it on, and if not, then they can just proceed with a standard phone call. Because the PSTN network offers a maximum speed of 33.6 kilobits per second, the maximum frame rate and quality is limited. 'During this Sars crisis, as long they can see the user's face then they are satisfied, even if it's not perfect quality,' Mr Lin says. In fact, users can adjust frame rate and picture quality - trading quality for speed - according to their needs. Leadtek's TeleVyou series offers much the same functionality, but comes with a built-in, five-inch, colour liquid-crystal display screen. The TeleVyou500 became more popular in Taiwan recently after Leadtek dropped prices from between US$600 and US$700 each, to two units for less than US$600. The promotion has been offered in Taiwan only, but will be in Hong Kong soon. Leadtek's BVP8770 series uses the packets-based (H.323) Internet protocol network to provide higher speed video phone technology which can easily connect to a local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN) or direct to the Internet. In fact, while PSTN is the more common networking standard, Mr Lin says they have been getting more enquiries for the broadband series. Prices for the BVP recently dropped from NT$30,000 (about HK$6,729) to NT$19,800. Fellow vendor United Microelectronics (UMC) is offering similar product lines. Its line-up supports PSTN and IP networks, as well as emerging media gateway control protocol (MGCP) and session integrated protocol (SIP) technologies. So far, the strong markets have been Taiwan, the mainland, Hong Kong and Singapore, but Leadtek is also looking to boost sales elsewhere.