LifeSize Passport Now Supports Video Calling Skype Users

LifeSize-Passport-300In a most interesting press release LifeSize has announced support for video calling to/from Skype user from the LifeSize Passport end-point. The new capability is projected for release in the coming v4.8 software. It will be interesting it give this a try.

It happens that I have a Passport in my home office at the moment. It was acquired earlier this year in the process of my failed attempt to entice LifeSize to join a VUC call using their video conference bridge. In my office the Passport is connected to a Sony 26” Bravia HDTV via HDMI. The camera connects to the Passport device via a Firewire cable.

The Passport is a small device. It’s small enough to be portable. I’m told that some people carry it around as they travel, using it over hotel broadband. The camera includes a built-in microphone array. The video quality presented is quite good, especially in light of the rather modest cost of the device.

The Passport supports video up to 720p video at bit rates from 128 kbps to 2 mbps. It supports both H.323 and SIP connectivity to standards compliant video conference systems. It has also supported audio calling to Skype users for quite some time.

One of the attractions of the Passport is that it’s essentially an appliance. It’s definitely not a PC. It boots up an embedded OS, its operation and administration performed through either the IR remote control or a web-based management portal.

As an appliance its not subject to the variable behavior of most laptops that I see in use. It allows you to use your laptop while on a call without impacting the performance of the video.

In many respects the Passport reminds me of a netbook. The raw performance of its menus seems sluggish, reflecting the limited host hardware platform. Even so, with core processing of video & audio done in dedicated silicon it’s a simple, reliable end-point for SMB/SOHO applications.

When I am next in my home office it will be interesting to fire up the Passport and see if the new firmware is actually available. The press release says it “will be Globally available in April 2011” but not specifically that it’s available now.

When it does become available you can bet I’ll be trying some Skype test calls with video. Maybe, just maybe, using such an appliance will allow me to consistently enjoy 720p Skype calls. That has not been the case in the past, even on Skype clients both on my local LAN.

Phil Wolff over at Skype Journal has some related commentary, as does the ever-insightful Dave Michaels.

Update: (April 22, 2011) I just powered up my Passport device and found that it is running software version LS_PP1_4.3.1 (7). The support section of the LifeSize web site offers newer releases, including v4.7.11, v4.7.10, v4.7.0 & v4.3.4….but NOT the v4.8 release mentioned in the press release.

Further, when I tried to download the newest software offered the server reported that it supports only 10 connections and was not currently available. After trying the URL for about 30 minutes I was eventually able to download the v4.7.11 release.

  • Spent a little time making some Skype calls using the Passport. Audio only for the moment. However, it does seem able to leverage the SILK codec…which makes for very good audio quality.

    Perhaps the limiting factor in the call quality is the fact that the microphone is built into the “Focus” camera. That means that it’s relatively poorly positions if compared to a proper headset. Still, it’s a two microphone array, which implies that it can synthesize a certain amount of directivity. In theory that could help improve the s/n ratio.