Video-chip firm 8x8 develops TV videophone

Video-chip firm 8x8 develops TV videophoneA new videoconferencing system that uses a standard television set and a touch-tone phone has been developed for the home market by 8x8, a manufacturer of video-processing chips. 8x8's ViaTV Phone is

Video-chip firm 8x8 develops TV videophone

A new videoconferencing system that uses a standard television set and a touch-tone phone has been developed for the home market by 8x8, a manufacturer of video-processing chips. 8x8's ViaTV Phone is already finding application in the alternate-site-care market as an adjunct to home-health nurse visits.

ViaTV comprises a video-processor chip, digital camera, and modem in a compact, set-top package that sells for $329 to $600, depending on the model. The system delivers low-resolution video up to 15 fps at 33.6 Kbps and can communicate with other ViaTV systems, videoconferencing systems, or PCs that comply with the H.324 standard. It plugs into any TV and telephone wall jack; in operation, the telephone keypad is used to navigate through text menus to size the video window, set the volume, and adjust the clarity and frame rate. The system also has advanced image modes that enable a physician to send fairly high-resolution still images to a specialist for review.

"In home-health applications, ViaTV will serve as the home end, while the medical professional on the other end will more likely have a PC in their office," said Scott St. Clair, director of corporate communications for 8x8 of Santa Clara, CA.

Several ViaTV systems are being evaluated as part of a feasibility study sponsored by Kansas University Medical Center and Kendallwood Hospice, an associated care facility with sites in Kansas City, MO, and St. Joseph, MO. Since March, five ViaTV Phones have been installed in the homes of terminally ill patients to supplement visits from hospice nurses and to provide monitoring during evenings and weekends. An additional 15 systems are being used as base units at the Kansas City and St. Joseph offices and by nurses in their homes during off hours. Initial feedback has been enthusiastic, but feasibility and outcomes data are still being analyzed, according to Dr. Gary Doolittle, medical director for Kendallwood.

The KUMC/Kendallwood study used the standard ViaTV system. Enhancements such as data collection, imaging software, and ports for medical peripherals can be integrated into the package by 8x8's value-added resellers.

8x8, which went public in July, supplies video processing chips to such companies as PictureTel, Sony, and Panasonic for use in their videoconferencing systems.