First Impressions of Cisco umi
There's a lot to like about the quality of the video, but installation proved challenging in this evaluation.
The analyst team at Wainhouse Research recently took advantage of a BOGO (buy one get one) offer at Best Buy to acquire two Cisco umi systems, one for our Boston office, and one for Atlanta. We were extremely curious to see how a 1080p videoconferencing appliance with a list price of $599 (at the time) would perform in our living rooms, and how Cisco had approached the obvious challenges of dealing with consumers and videoconferencing novices. Our conclusions were mixed.
umi at a Glance
* umi is a dedicated videoconferencing appliance. No personal computer is involved in making video calls. Designed to sit on top of (or beneath) a flat screen TV, umi makes no pretense of being a web browser, email station, telephone, collaboration solution, or smart cable TV guide. The basic elements are a camera, control box (codec), and hand held remote.
* umi is designed to place calls either to another six-digit umi number (dial by number) or to an endpoint listed on the user's contact list (click to call) which is provided by the required umi service. Customers will need an Internet-connected computer to create and manage their contact lists however (as well as to perform the initial registration). Right now, the contact list (and interoperability) is limited to other umi systems and to Google video chat users. Cisco has promised future interoperability with Cisco and Tandberg videoconferencing systems. Details not yet available. * umi claims to deliver 1080p video with 3Mbps and 720p video with 1.5Mbps bandwidth
* Despite the low cost, umi includes a motorized PTZ camera--a very nice touch
* While the MSRP was $599 at the time we made our purchase, it has since been reduced to $499 with a 720p-only version due out for just $399
* umi requires a service contract to be functional. The original service price of $25/month has also been reduced to $10/month or $99/year. The service enables customers to create and manage contact lists, store recorded videos, and send/receive video mail.
We give Cisco five stars on the setup. Easy-to-understand and very short documentation, color-coded cables and I/O ports, small simple hand-held remote, etc. The instructions tell the customer how to install all the equipment, register for a umi account, and make and receive umi calls. After the system boots up, the user steps through an on-screen wizard to configure the network connection for wired or wireless operation; enter the activation code obtained via the online registration process; check and adjust the microphone, speaker, and camera; and finally snap a profile photo. Umi then reaches out to the Internet and updates its firmware for the next 20 minutes.
Note: The simple wiring diagram in the quick start guide shows the umi Internet connection to be via a router, but the words router, NAT, or firewall do not appear in the instruction guide. Both the Boston and Atlanta systems were set up behind consumer WiFi routers, a situation we believe would be typical for most homes today.
Using Cisco umi
After completing the system installation and configuration, the user is greeted by an on-screen control called "the clover." From the clover, the user can make a call, manage contacts, change settings, view stored video messages, and record and send videos.
Figure: Cisco umi onscreen menu when not in a call
Placing a call involves moving the cursor to the green telephone handset icon, pressing the Check button on the remote, and then entering the umi phone number (a six-digit code provided during registration) to dial. Alternatively, the user can move to the Contacts menu and select a pre-defined contact to call. Users can create contacts using the on-screen menu and infrared remote (very awkward) or via the umiconnect.com website.