I wrote about the new Asus Chromebox yesterday. I am very impressed with this $179 desktop computer. Now I notice that Google is offering the same computer in a package that includes a high-definition video camera, a combination wireless keyboard and remote control device, and a microphone for conference rooms as well as perhaps in your living room. The system uses Google Hangouts for the software and is also compatible with existing conferencing setups from some other companies. People without Chrome hardware can join meetings from other locations as long as they have a Google account.
I'd love to use this for family "visits" with distant grandchildren, cousins, and others. I know of several genealogy societies that use online video conferencing for meetings of the board of directors or for committee meetings. Video conferencing is great any time it is difficult for all the players to get together in person, due to distances or time constraints. I could become quite enthused with this new Chromebox for Meetings offering except for one thing: price.
If you have ever conducted remote video conferences, either for business or with distant family members, you probably already know that setting up the meeting can be a bit complex. With the exception of Apple's FaceTime, most video meetings are difficult to set up. In contrast, to start a Chromebox for Meetings video conference, users reportedly just pick up the remote and get started. Google claims the system eliminates "complex dial-in codes, passcodes, or leader PINs." It is as close to "plug and play" as possible.
Google itself has developed a variety of solutions for its own teams, and now the company has decided to make some of this technology available to other businesses as well. The included high-definition camera supports resolutions up to 1920x1080, which should look great when the video is displayed on a large-screen television set. It also includes automatic switching of resolution based on bandwidth, a Carl Zeiss lens with autofocus, and automatic low-light correction. The microphone/speaker includes mute, end call, and volume buttons. In short, this appears to be excellent hardware.
The biggest problem with Chromebox for Meetings seems to be the price. Actually, the purchase price for the hardware is $999, and that includes one year of online video time. The purchase price does not include a television set for display, but most would-be users probably own a large-screen television anyway.
The purchase price doesn't strike me as outrageous. Purchasing the same components separately from a variety of vendors probably would cost the same or more. High-definition video cameras are expensive, and a computer of some sort plus the required keyboard and other necessary devices will probably cost as much or more.
However, after the first year of use, Google will charge a $250-per-device annual fee for management and support. Ouch!
We all know what happens to computer prices over time: they drop like a rock. With a $250/year annual fee, I won't be using Chromebox for Meetings. However, I suspect that price will drop within a year or two, or else other companies will start producing similar devices and services and sell them at lower prices than Chromebox for Meetings. Until then, I'll stick with lower-resolution services, such as Apple FaceTime, Skype video conferences, and standard Google Hangouts. The video resolution is lower in these other services but is more than good enough for me to chat with my grandchildren.
If you haven't tried video conferencing to chat with your distant grandchildren, with other family members, or even in a meeting of your society's board of directors, I'd suggest you try a few meetings. It is a great use of computers. Who knows? Maybe we can even afford high-definition video conferencing in another year or two.
You can learn more about Chromebox for Meetings at http://goo.gl/1utjEd.
You can learn more about Apple FaceTime for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch at http://www.apple.com/ios/facetime/ and for Macintosh laptop and desktop computers at http://www.apple.com/mac/facetime/?cid=oas-us-domains-facetime.com.
You can learn more about Skype video conferencing at http://www.skype.com/en/features/group-calls/.
You can learn more about Google hangouts at http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/hangouts.