Why I Won't Be Buying Cisco's Souped-Up Webcam Or Logitech's Google TV

Plenty of Potential, But Flawed Offerings From Logitech and Cisco, and a Couple Cool Ones From Lenovo

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Jim Louderback
Jim Louderback
I used to go to product announcements all the time – but then I became a CEO and had to curtail my visits (darn those responsibilities getting in the way of fun). But earlier this week, for some reason, had me visiting three company launches – from Cisco, Lenovo and Logitech/Google TV – in one day.

Bottom line: great potential but flawed products. Here's a run-down:

Cisco UMI Telepresence
OK, first the name. During the press conference I sat in between Harry McCracken of Technologizer, and Kara Swisher from All Things D – and Kara was the queen of snark. "It sounds like Sushi", she quipped, and then proceeded to use the food analogy in her quick UMI write-up.

Umi promises to bring Cisco's vaunted commercial teleconferencing to consumers, but they are going to run into three big problems. First, for the device to really shine, each side needs to buy a $600 device – which includes settop box, camera and remote control. Unfortunately the money doesn't end there – you need to spend another $25 a month for the "service", which as far as I can tell gives you simply online storage for up to 100 minutes of saved video.

Want to connect up to family? It'll cost you $1,200 to get started and $50 a month for the service. That's way too much in a world still reeling from "the great recession". Cisco's Ken Wirt kept talking about "unlimited calls", but that's not going to fly with the geeks, as it's an internet device, and once you pay your service provider, IP is free.

And that's the second problem. UMI requires 1.5 megabits of upstream bandwidth for its lowest level – 720p, and a full 3 megabits up for what they call "1080p" – but at 30 frames per second sounds like 1080i to me. Got less than that? "Tough luck" said one of the Cisco reps, saying that you'd better upgrade your broadband to nosh on UMI.

Also, UMI includes both wireless "N" and wired connections, but in many households getting a sustained 1.5 to 3 megabits of consistent bits is going to be even more challenging that getting your ISP to deliver them to your home.

Finally, the name. UMI – pronounced You-Me – is cute. But Telepresence? That's a word only a geek could love. Those wacky scientists over at Cisco better come up with a catchy new name and quick. Because Telepresence works in the world of IT, but not in the world of Barney and Survivor.

The demos looked good, but the environments were pre-screened. Oprah's going to be pushing UMI along with other celebrities – but there are going to be a lot of returns, from a lot of unhappy everyday users.

UMI is a bit ahead of its time. At $249, with no monthly charge, and with support for lower than 1.5 megabits it would probable be a mid-level success. But at that price it's headed for a fall.

Logitech Revue (Google TV)
I really want to like GoogleTV. And I really want to like Logitech. But something was just not right in today's announcement of the $300 Logitech Revue, the first product based on GoogleTV.

Maybe it was because Logitech was more proud of its Harmony universal remote integration in the new settop box than all the Google integration.

Maybe it was because it pretty much looks like you'll need a keyboard for GoogleTV – and lets face it, keyboards just don't belong in the living room.

Maybe it was because you could buy 4 Roku boxes or 3 Apple TVs for the price of a single Logitech Revue.

Maybe it was because Dish Network wants to charge its subscribers $4 a month to let the Revue search its DVR database.

Maybe it's because web pages just don't look good on TV – even those built to support TV shows like Top Gear.

Maybe it's because after seeing Cisco's telepresence announcement earlier in the day I was jaded by the inferior (yet dramatically less-expensive) teleconferencing capabilities.

Maybe it was because they announced a core set of apps – and Revision3 wasn't among them (Google still won't give us the time of day when it comes to building an app for the Android / GoogleTV store).

Maybe it was because I was hungry, and they kept the press conference going until nearly 1:30 before letting us get up and get a bite to eat.

I admit to being underwhelmed, and probably jaded. But I think the Revue will be a dud, and that GoogleTV will end up embedded in TVs, not as a separate set top box.

Still, I think Logitech is making a smart play. From how I read it, they really don't want to sell a lot of Revue units. What they really want to do is become the premier supplier of GoogleTV add-ons, from video cameras for teleconferencing to keyboards, pointing devices and more. If Google TV takes off Logitech will likely win in the end. Alas, those who buy the Revue might not see it that way.

Much of what the guys at Lenovo showed me was under NDA, but I was impressed by both their new designs, and the cool new discrete graphics options in their superb T line of notebooks. I'm a big fan of the T400s I run around with, but I have to say that their new line could just get me to switch.

Here's what's cool – you can actually run four separate displays from one notebook, with their new notebook dock. That's an impressive feat for a notebook, and one that should have video editors, brokers and other information-hungry users salivating.

But Lenovo's reimagining of the lowly power adapter got me the most excited (at least most excited about something I can talk about). They've realized that most everything these days that we carry around is USB powered, so they've added a USB hub – and USB charging ports – into a new $75 power brick. Called The Power Hub, it's simple, unsexy, but like a tub of soft-serve ice cream on a sweltering day, oh-so-desirable.

Jim Louderback is CEO of Revision3 Internet Television in San Francisco.
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