Now you see it

E-mail is ready to go visual as the 21st century approaches

Published: Monday 15 February 1999

ORDINARY postal services, now commonly referred to as 'snail mail', took a back seat with the advent of electronic or e-mail. Users with e-mail facility prefer to by-pass the various irritating hurdles 'snail mail' is prone to with a single key-stroke on their computers. But in this age of faster-than-eye technological progress, when even the 'latest' computers begin to embarrass the technically-inclined in less than a year, a system that promises to make e-mails obsolete is all set to make its debut among computer whiz-kids and technology buffs.

This latest gizmo that all computer freaks are swearing by is video e-mail, dubbed v-mail. It is a system that will allow a user to send short video messages by e-mail to another via the Internet. The Dutch electronics giant Philips recently unveiled their low-cost v-mail system called Videogram. Videogram comprises a simple colour video camera with an in-built micro-phone that plugs into a universal serial bus socket on a Windows 98 personal computer (PC) (Electronics, Vol 112, No 234).

Using a software package called the Videogram Creator, users simply have to click on icons to control the camera and hit the 'Esc' button to stop recording. Clicking on the 'send' icon compresses the usual AVI (video for the Windows format) recording by a factor of 100, so that a minute-long audio-visual message can be stored on the regular 1.4-megabyte floppy. The compressed file can then be sent as an ordinary e-mail message.

Previous V-mail systems only worked if the recipient, too, had matching software to decode the sound-and-video file, Philips, however, bundles matching playback software with the message and packs it as a small executable (.exe) file. Fortunately, the playback software is compatible with any Windows version. "V-mail will replace e-mail in four to five years," predicts a Philips spokesperson. The Videogram package from Philips is currently available for US $99.

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