I have seen the future. And it certainly is not Cisco’s new video conferencing system. ūmi ( that’s its name) takes a cute enough idea and finds every possible way to break it.

I won’t pick on that silly name. I’m sure it means something very cool that Cisco spent hundreds of thousands of dollars researching (actually, ūmi just means YOU and ME; get it?) . But hold onto your hats: ūmi costs $600 up front, plus a $25 monthly subscription cost. Or, you can do the same thing through your computer, your SmartPhone, or any number of other devices, fire up a copy of Skype, and get the whole thing for free.

And wait, it gets better: the specifications on the ūmi website scream out “this thing isn’t going to work!“.

I’m old enough to remember when the phone company first started talking about video conferencing. Back in the day, when it was just a dream, AT&T’s vision of tiny, grainy, jerky pictures seemed pretty cool. But the phones took thirty years to materialize and by then we’d all come to our senses . . . and the price tag was only part of the problem.

Now, we all have video conferencing at our finger tips. It isn’t always perfect, but for the most part the computer-and-Skype solution is one of those situations where good enough really IS good enough.

So Cisco’s ūmi, in being designed to connect to and through your TV, would be a completely uninteresting development, except for the way it’s being marketed: this thing is simple to set up. Of course it is; you just plug it in. Again . . . just like the phone company solution, but better; at least in theory ūmi will connect to people who are using the computer set-up you should have just used in the first place.

Right, still not interesting. Here’s what is:

IF you’re willing to spend a silly amount of money on something you can have for free, just because it comes out of the box ready to connect to your (high-definition-only) TV with no hassles, it’s a good bet that it won’t actually work. On this page, Cisco tells us that ūmi needs an Internet connection running at a speed that most people don’t have. 1.5 Mbps upload speed for 720p ūmi, and 3.5 Mbps upload speed for 1080p ūmi.

Now in theory, the ūmi might work for businesses in the same way that your expensive conference-calling phone does, or how your old ISDN-based video conferencing equipment never quite did. And the bandwidth is dedicated, I’ll bet, so ūmi could actually give you “better” video conferencing.

But it’s being targeted at home users, not business. In fact, given Cisco’s history of separating the two markets I’ll bet businesses aren’t allowed to have ūmi at this price.

Thanks, Cisco. I’d love to ūmi. But I think I’ll pass.

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