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For some lawyers, the practice of hopping onto a plane and flying to a distant city for a quick, face-to-face meeting is becoming a thing of the past. Travel budgets are tight, as anyone who has had to answer to a penny-pinching managing partner can attest. As airlines and hotels experience a recession-like decline in business, the videoconferencing industry finds itself in the right place at the right time. Advances in Internet Protocol (IP) networks and video compression techniques make videoconferencing more reliable and affordable. Interactive Week reported on June 26 that some new players in the industry are promising price cuts of up to 50 percent for video connectivity. And relatively simple hardware that can connect two desktop PCs for video costs as little as $600 for each participant. The new techniques promise an improvement over the jerky, unsynchronized video that most users associate with online videoconferencing. New cameras, new data compression methods and high-speed IP systems offer video that approaches television-style quality. The systems depend on Internet connections at least as fast as ISDN, with DSL or faster connections working even better. Here is a sampling of Web sites that offer videoconferencing services and hardware: Polycom www.polycom.com/products/ video_family.html This company made a name for itself in the audioconferencing field with its spaceship-shaped conference phones. Now it has expanded into broadband videoconferencing equipment. Prices range from $599 for the ViaVideo for individual PCs to more than $15,000 for a four-site system that includes voice-tracking cameras that know who is talking at any moment and focus on the person speaking. Sprint www.sprintbiz.com/tools/ icc/video_conferencing/ Someone who wants a turnkey operation can turn to one of the major telephone carriers, such as Sprint. It allows users to buy or rent equipment manufactured by Polycom. The company also provides video-equipped conference rooms in the United States and other countries, including public rooms at some Kinko’s locations. AT&T www.att.com/videoconferencing/ Some of the big players, such at AT&T, have the resources to put together conference calls involving more than 100 sites at a time, with connections into 50 countries. PicturePhone Direct www.picturephone.com This site provides a good overview of how videoconferencing works, with sections such as “8 Steps to Choosing a System,” “Main Components of a System” and “Sample System Configurations.” First Virtual Communications www.fvc.com After it merged with CUseeMe Networks, this company began offering two flagship products, Click to Meet and CUseeMe Videoware. The company says its Click to Meet product is as “easy to use as e-mail,” combining voice and video telephony, data collaboration and streaming content into a single communications environment.

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