SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Cisco Systems Inc. announced Wednesday that it's going to start selling a $599 box that turns living-room TV sets into big videophones.
It's the first entry by the world's largest maker of computer networking gear into home videoconferencing, a market that's been dominated by free, PC-oriented services such as Skype SA.
Cisco said that the "umi" device will include a camera and will be controlled by a remote. The service will cost $25 per month on top of the purchase price.
Cisco emphasizes that the system will produce high-definition, life-like video, but the quality will also depend on the speed of the home's broadband connection. Competing consumer-level videoconferencing services mostly don't produce high-definition video, but TV manufacturers have already started to bring video calling into the living room. New TVs this year from Panasonic Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. can use the Skype conferencing service with accessory cameras.
Cisco, which is based in San Jose, California, said the umi will be sold at Best Buy starting Nov. 14. Verizon Communications Inc. also said it would sell the system starting next year to customers who have its FiOS fiber-optic Internet service.
Cisco has been selling corporate videoconferencing equipment for years, focusing on the very highest end of the market -- so-called "telepresence" systems that take up a whole room, with large plasma screens and carefully staged lighting. Earlier this year, it broadened its portfolio considerably with the $3.4 billion acquisition of Tandberg ASA, a Norwegian company that made systems ranging from telepresence setups to videophones on the desk top.
In the consumer videoconferencing space, Cisco is competing not just with Skype and TV makers, but with Logitech International SA of Switzerland. It is big maker of webcams and is collaborating with Google Inc. on connecting TVs to the Internet. Last year, Logitech bought LifeSize Communications, which produces a range of business-focused videoconferencing gear.