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Low cost, ease speak up for video e-mail

October 18, 2001 

Video e-mail has arrived — and it's looking pretty good.

Sure, the moving images sometimes still look like Max Headroom but that's not the issue here. What's marking the arrival of video e-mail on the consumer front is low cost, ease of use and, most importantly, availability to a large audience — particularly those who access the Internet through a dial-up connection.

Until now, most video correspondence arrived in the form of large files that not only consumed hard drive space but also moved slowly through traditional dial-up Internet connections.

But Talkway Communications, a multimedia service provider in Fremont, may have a way that brings video e-mail to the masses.

The company's product, VTalkMail, uses file compression technology, along with a viewer that runs on a Java applet, to provide low-maintenance video communications.

That means you don't have to download an attached video clip from the e-mail and you don't have to install a video player such as Real or Windows Media to see it.

And with software compressing the file before it's sent up to the Internet, uploading time is seconds, rather than minutes or even hours. The video e-mail resides on Talkway's servers where recipients are sent with an embedded link to view it.

``We're not asking people to have gigabytes of space or complex software,'' said Colin Bodell, Talkway's general manager for U.S. operations. ``This plays on anything that's Java enabled.''

Almost anything. Macintosh users are left in the cold — both on the sending and receiving end. Bugs in the Mac version of Java prevent the service from running, though Talkway engineers are working on a Mac alternative and hope to have it running sometime next year.

To send a video e-mail you need a Web camera and Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express. Users of most other e-mail programs can receive Talkway e-mail because most Internet browsers are Java enabled. Those on the receiving end will see an embedded video screen pop up in the e-mail window. After a brief buffering delay — usually only a matter of seconds — the video starts, without a download or plug-in viewer.

For those using other e-mail clients, such as Eudora, the e-mail window contains a clickable Internet address that opens a new browser window with the embedded viewer.

Microsoft's Windows Messenger application, which offers video conferencing, requires users at both ends run on Windows XP operating system.

Two years ago, Talkway shifted focus to video e-email with an emphasis on making it easy for dial-up connections. It had become clear then that high-speed Internet access — also known as broadband — was rolling out slower than predicted.

``The promise of broadband just didn't come about as everyone thought, but there was already a tremendous amount of narrowband in place,'' Bodell said, referring to the widespread use of dial-up connections.

That's what sold AT&T WorldNet and convinced it offer the package with its premium ISP services, those priced at $16.95 per month or higher, when it launched in June.

``One of the reasons we chose Talkway was because the experience was great in a dial-up, as well as broadband,'' said Ed Chatlos, vice-president of Internet products and services for AT&T. ``We did some trials with it and got a great response. In the first month we offered it, we had tens of thousands of video e-mails being sent back and forth.''

With their service, AT&T WorldNet subscribers receive 300 free minutes of streaming video and can send directly from the AT&T Internet e-mail client. Likewise, Talkway offers the service — with a software download from its Web site — to non-AT&T subscribers for $5 per month for 50 minutes of streaming video, with a three-month minimum subscription. Those subscribers need Outlook or Outlook Express to send video e-mails.

The issue of minutes is an important caveat — especially for those who've learned valuable lessons with the per-minute plans used by cell phone providers.

Talkway doesn't differentiate between video sent and video viewed in terms of minutes. That means that when you send a 30-second video clip and your recipient views that same clip, you've just been charged for one minute of time.

If your recipient forwards the video e-mail to 10 friends, that's another five minutes of streaming video charged against your account — even if you didn't know your friend was forwarding your e-mail. For now, you can't set an expiration date to a video e-mail. Talkway sets a 15-day default expiration.

Contact Sam Diaz at or (408) 920-5021.

BY SAM DIAZ, Mercury News. Copyright © 2001

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