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Sony’s PCS-11: big opportunity for lucky few

Sony has more than 3,000 channel partners in Canada for all its computer, communications and consumer products, but only 15 or so that sell its videoconferencing solutions across the country. “They are specialists with videoconferencing technology and the market,” he said. “There are a lot more potential partners out there but if we increase distribution with a number of dealers, then the competition factor really kicks in (which can hurt their profits). If we limit distribution and plan properly with knowledgeable dealers, we can offer better service to our customers.”

The PCS-11, an entry-level version of the PCS-1, which debuted last June, will start around $5,999. It is targeted at customers looking for videoconferencing with superior picture and sound quality, but who don’t want to purchase more system than is needed to achieve that. “With the PCS-11, we offer solid videoconferencing functionality without compromising the clarity and quality of their calls.”

The picture quality, said Perkins, is really impressive. He was “blown away” the first time he saw the clarity which was possible using only half the bandwidth typically required for TV-quality images. Powered by the same platform as its bigger brother, the PCS-11 also features encryption capabilities for privacy and built-in quality of service over either Internet Protocol (IP), which comes standard, or ISDN, which is optional.

The key to the more efficient use of bandwidth — or better quality at a lower price — is the new H.264 standard, which enables a TV-quality picture (768-kbps bit rate) in only 384kbps bandwidth. “Pricing has dropped considerably and capabilities have increased,” said Perkins. The critical expansion option, besides microphones, is the ability to add an ISDN capability, at either 384 or 768kbps ($1,999 and $2,699, respectively).

Sony’s Quality of Service (QoS) technology, including its Adaptive Rate Control (ARC) and Auto Repeat Request (ARQ), is also standard. ARC automatically adjusts picture quality to changing network conditions and ARQ helps avoid picture collapse by recovering and resending lost packets buffered in the encoder. This results in fewer interruptions and better performance while conferencing on the Internet or on LAN/WAN networks.

The PCS-11 also features Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) protection against unauthorized access for audio, video and data transmitted through the PCS-DSB1 data solutions device.

Unlike the PCS-11, the PCS-1 is a multi-point solution, capable of linking up to six locations. It starts off at $6,999, and is also an IP-out-of-the-box solution with ISDN an option.

Both systems feature a two-piece design with built-in microphone, and can be set up in a variety of situations, including room systems, roll-abouts, set-tops and executive offices.

Also like the PCS-1, the PCS-11 supports a private phonebook, which stores numbers on Memory Stick media. The system also supports auto call, enabling a user to initiate a conference by simply inserting the Memory Stick media into the videoconference unit.

With approximately 10 per cent of the global videoconferencing market, Perkins said Sony is the third largest vendor, although Polycom and Tanberg hold the lion’s share of revenues and units, accounting for 80 per cent of the market between them. Sales have been strong, but because prices are coming down as fast as unit shipments are going up, the market appears relatively flat. Key markets include distance learning and telehealth.

According to In-Stat/MDR, the global market for videoconferencing solutions will grow to about $874 million (US) in 2007 from $535 million last year. The double-digit growth of 10.3 per cent per year, will be exceeded slightly by the 12.2 per cent compound annual growth rate that will characterize the service provider market, which will see revenues climb from $3.1 billion in 2002 to $5.5 billion in 2007.

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