Wireless Video Conferencing from a Home Office

D-Link’s Ethernet-based DVC-1000 i2eye Broadband Videophone was a significant product when first released last year. Although videoconferencing gear was hardly a new phenomenon, the majority of prior offerings were marred by a high price, poor quality, or in some cases, both.

In addition to being relatively easy to set-up and use, the DVC-1000 was also inexpensive to purchase and offered reasonable video and audio quality for those small businesses with a fast broadband connection. About the only practical drawback was that, in an era where wireless networks were becoming commonplace, the DVC-1000 required a wired 10/100 Ethernet connection (though that limitation could be circumvented with a Ethernet-to-wireless adapter).

The need for any amount of wire is no more with the advent of the i2eye Wireless Broadband Videophone, model DVC-1100. As the incremental nomenclature implies, the DVC-1100 is a strong relation to its predecessor. In fact, the technical specifications are identical, save for the DVC-1100’s addition of internal wireless capability.

Physically, the DVC-1000 and DVC-1100 are essentially carbon copies, with the only difference being the latter’s antenna. Otherwise all the same ports — 10/100 Ethernet, microphone, RJ-11 phone handset, and composite video and audio — are still there, and almost in the same place. The remote control has been reworked slightly and is now svelter.

The DVC-1100 is a so-called 802.11b+ device (define), based on the TI ACX1100 chipset, and is thus capable of the 22 Mbps data rate and 256-bit WEP encryption that chipset supports. In my tests, the DVC-1100 easily associated with several 802.11b, 11b+, and 11g access points using WEP (define), including non-D-Link units.

No browser-based interaction with the DVC-1100 is possible (or necessary), since all interaction directly through the unit’s remote control and the on-the-TV-screen interface. As was the case with the DVC-1000, you can configure IP information this way, but with the DVC-1100 you can also scan for and connect to wireless networks and configure WEP keys, all with the remote control.

The DVC-1100 will support data rates from 96 to 512kbps and frame rates of up to 30 fps, at either 352×288 or 176×144 resolution. Not surprisingly, given the relatively low data rates used by the video and audio codecs, quality was essentially the same whether the DVC-1100 was connected to the network via Ethernet or wirelessly.

A closer look at D-Link's Ethernet-based DVC-1000 i2eye Broadband VideophoneIndeed, the quality of the video and audio will depend primarily on the speed of the broadband connection each caller is using–and more to the point, the upstream bandwidth available to each, since that will determine how much data the other party will receive. Since most DSL and cable broadband connections are asynchronous with upstream speeds only a fraction of that of downloads, setting the DVC-1100’s send and receive rates appropriately goes a long way to optimizing the quality of the connection.

In my case, using a DSL connection with a 128 Kbps upstream speed and with a 384 Kbps upstream speed on the opposite end yielded 23 or 24 frame per second video displayed on my end and 13-15 FPS on the other side.

Audio quality was acceptable, though using the DVC-1100’s built-in condenser microphone often produced a hollow-sounding echo effect. Use of a phone handset — which is not included — improves audio quality considerably, though it does have the disadvantage of tethering you to the camera.

The DVC-1100 retains one annoying characteristic of its predecessor in that it doesn’t retain certain settings after a restart. As a result, those who prefer to view incoming video in full screen mode or monitor connection information like data and frame rate and packet loss will need to leave the camera on or set those options each time.

If there remains one practical downside to the DVC-1100, it’s the fact that it’s only an 802.11b device. Of course as mentioned earlier, even 11 Mbps is well in excess of what the videoconferencing requires (or what most broadband connections can provide). Of course, if the DVC-1100 is to be used on an 802.11g WLAN, said network must be configured for mixed mode. This will significantly constrain the performance of any native 802.11g devices on your WLAN. While this likely won’t be noticeable unless you’re doing things that require maximum performance like high-quality video or audio streaming, it’s still something to consider.

If dropping into mixed-mode is an issue for you, it can be overcome by disabling the DVC-1100’s internal radio (which is easily done through the remote control) and substituting an 802.11g Ethernet-to-wireless adaptor connected to the camera’s RJ-45 port (D-Link will sell you its DWl-G810 for this purpose for only $109).

Of course, you can also use such an adapter with the DVC-1000, and if you already own one, fret not, because there’s nothing the DVC-1100 adds that you couldn’t achieve by using the Ethernet-to-wireless adapter with an existing i2eye camera.

However, if you’re in the market for a new camera and don’t want to deal with a separate wireless device, the DVC-1100 builds on an excellent product and makes it even better.

Adapted from PracticalyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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