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Video e-mail for the masses


December 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.

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 application 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 to the Internet, uploading time is seconds. 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. Bugs in the Mac version of Java prevent the service from running, though Talkway engineers hope to have a Mac alternative running 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 a video screen pop up in the e-mail window. After a brief buffering delay — usually 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 that users at both ends run the Windows XP operating system.

Two years ago, Talkway shifted focus to video e-mail with an emphasis on making it easy for dial-up connections.

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

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 important. Talkway doesn't differentiate between video sent and video viewed in terms of minutes. 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. Talkway sets a 15-day default expiration.

Here are the minimum system requirements for Talkway's video e-mail service:

Pentium 266MHz or faster PC

Windows 98/Me/2000, Windows NT 4.0 (service pack 3.0 or later) Available for Windows XP by mid-November

E-mail service provider

32 MB RAM for Windows 98; 64 MB RAM for Windows ME/2000/NT/XP

50 MB of unused hard disk space

256-color (or greater) display

Available USB Port

D-ROM drive

Web camera and microphone

For a peek at a video e-mail, visit www.talkway.com/showcase/demos/message.html

By SAM DIAZ, NIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS. Copyright © The Modesto Bee


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