LifeSize Passport review

Price when reviewed

Video conferencing (VC) vendors love to quote vast numbers: huge data pipelines, massive numbers of people “conferenced in” all at once, phenomenal costs slashed in an instant – and some pretty outrageous pricing for their gear too. Often over £50,000. If you can’t work out why on earth you should spend this much on a standalone VC system, especially when Skype is free, then perhaps a look at the LifeSize Passport will help you to understand.

As the price above gives away, this isn’t heavy metal: the whole point about the Passport is that you can make a point-to-point VC call sitting at home, with your home broadband router and nothing more technical than the LifeSize device, your HDMI-equipped flat-panel LCD panel and the LifeSize remote.

So why even contemplate paying this much? Well let’s use the example of an employee who takes a laptop home with them. It’s probably a corporate number with a cheap webcam and microphone, and the screen almost certainly won’t be big enough to run the video window for your end, the video window for the far end, the meeting cheat-sheet, the sideband-typed chat channel, and the shared whiteboard all at the same time.

LifeSize Passport

This is where the reality of daily VC use – as distinct from home use of a Skype and webcam setup to see jump-cut pictures of children, pets and aunts – starts to make it worth the investment in a dedicated system.

For a start, the Passport’s camera is a massive step up from the common USB webcams we’re used to working with for Skype or MSN calling. Not just in terms of delivered resolution, but also in the performance of the included microphone and lack of graininess or jerky video updates in domestic lighting conditions.

This is partly a matter of the technology used – HD resolution shovels lots of pixels; FireWire moves them efficiently; and the dedicated encoder in the base unit isn’t burdened with general-purpose computing duties. All these factors raise the Passport above the Skype experience, meaning you’ll actually feel part of a meeting rather than a distant onlooker.

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