Videoconferencing units tend to suffer due to high network bandwidth requirements. Recently, faster Internet and intranet services have made quality video-telephony a more practical reality.
High-end videoconferencing units can cost an arm and a leg and may be bulky and complex, so Sony sought to save on space with their simple Ipela PCS-TL33 video conferencing unit. The unit double as a computer monitor so avoids adding extra hardware to your desktop.
We connected the two review units to our LAN, with a speed of 100Mbps. One device was set up in a quiet office and the other in a noisy laboratory environment. Call quality was tested at 1024kbps and 2048kbps.
Our interest during testing was directed towards ease of set-up, customer support, configuration options, interoperability with other communication systems and quality of sound and vision and lag times. Time constraints mean that many features will be enumerated rather than tested -- these systems tend to come with a wealth of options.
Design and Features
The TL33 is a self-contained, one-piece unit. The brains are built into the 17.1-inch display. Screen resolution is 1,280 x 768 WXGA and it can double as your computer monitor. Control of the unit is via mouse -- a small optical mouse is provided (or you can use your existing mouse). The same mouse can serve both PC and the TL33 unit or separate mice can be used.
This is a compact system decked out in black and cream. A sliding shutter provides for privacy and protects the camera lens from scratching. Small stereo speakers are set behind the grill under the screen. Varicoloured LEDs and labels indicate the status of mute button and PC/videoconference selections. Buttons for these features lie beneath the screen bezel under the respective markers; here we also find buttons for power, menu, and volume control as well as microphone and headphone jacks.
Power and data connections can be found behind a readily removable rear panel. The rear of the machine is thus very neat and tidy, but may cause new users some confusion. The printed quick start guide does provide adequate information to allow inexperienced users to get the machine up and running quickly and without fuss though. Further usage details can be found on the disk provided.
Users have various picture-in-picture and picture-beside-picture options. There is also an optional "Data Solution Module" which can be installed inside the TL33. This module allows for the transmission of screen output from your computer and also enhances the reception of such transmissions. The unit also allows for output to a data projector or other monitor. Even without the DSM it is possible to transmit still images stored on a Memory Stick (there is a slot on the right side of the unit).
The screen can be rotated and tilted with relative ease, but height adjustment is very limited and requires the removal of the rear cover and four screws in order to select one of three predefined height settings.
The TL33 allows for encryption of transmissions -- and this does not create appreciable delays. However it should be noted that there is always going to be some delay in video conferencing depending on the speed of the Internet connections involved. We observed delays of around half a second in our testing, but delays may be greater on slower connections and across large distances crossing multiple servers. Transmission efficiency is optimised by coding the information in MPEG4 format.
The TL33 cannot host a multipoint conference, but it is capable of participating in one. Administrators may choose to monitor or administer machines via the Web; this is apparently possible with the TL33, though the manual does not clearly explain how. For the most part the manuals are clearly laid out and comprehensible, but there are a few places where they fall down.
Software automatically controls (unless overridden) various aspects of the system -- the brightness setting is the most obvious of these. The frame rate can also automatically decrease from 30 to 15 fps in low light levels.
The performance of the machine was generally good, but it falls down badly in one particular area -- there is a very high noise level in images (or to put it another way -- I know for a fact that it does not snow in our office.) Rather than heavy pixilation during a significant image update, we observed the scan lines as the screen updated. This issues isn't any worst than pixilation -- just different. As with any other video conferencing system, it doesn't pay to jump around in your seat while making a call!
Resolution is adequate, but the transmitted detail seems a little low for the capacity of the screen -- this is possibly an artifact of the high noise levels. We would certainly have to recommend a very well lit office for these devices.
At a normal distance from the screen (say 40cm) the user's face fills a very small part of the screen. While this is handy when a group of people want to be seen and the digital zoom makes allowances for this, the resulting zoomed image is of a proportionally lower quality.
As a rule, the machines are very easy to use, but the response time to requests is often very disappointing. When selecting menu items it can take as many as two seconds just to display the next menu level.
Audio quality was acceptable, but not spectacular. There was no "tinniness" or serious echoes, but the bit-rate was a bit low. Be warned -- the microphone picks up background noise quite well -- so no rude comments from others in your office please!
We suspect that the failure of the manual to clearly spell out some features gives Sony an excuse to sell training for a product that is essentially fairly easy to use once you know a few little tricks. The standard warranty period is very good at three years -- covering both parts and labour, but requires return to vendor. Extended warranties and further service options are available.
You can pay a lot more than AU$4,000 for a videoconferencing system if you want all the bell and whistles plus stunning audiovisual quality. The Sony may be lacking in some areas, but it will satisfy the needs of many businesses and pay for itself when you avoid your first overseas meeting.
|Built-in Devices||camera, memory card reader, microphone, stereo speakers|
|Technology||TFT active matrix|
|Diagonal Size||17.1 in|
|Viewable Size||17.1 in|
|Native Resolution||1280 x 768|
|Image Contrast Ratio||600:1|
|Response Time||13 ms|
|Type||Modem (digital) wired|
|Max Transfer Rate||2 Mbps|
|Digital Signaling Protocol||H.281, H.323|
|Data Compression Protocol||G.711, G.722, G.728, G.729, H.261, H.263, H.264|
|Type||Digital video camera (color) - integrated|
|Digital Video Capture Resolution||704 x 576|
|Type||digital video camera|
|Output Power / Channel||3 Watt|
|Sound Output Mode||stereo|
|Data Link Protocol||Ethernet, Fast Ethernet|
|Network / Transport Protocol||TCP/IP|
|Min Operating Temperature||41 °F|
|Max Operating Temperature||95 °F|
|Humidity Range Operating||20 - 80%|
|Product Line||Sony IPELA|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|Battery / Power|