In “Back to the Future II,” the 2015 version of Marty McFly gets fired via a massive TV screen in his den after agreeing to a shady deal with a co-worker. While we don’t yet have flying cars or automatic laces, that in-home TV chat solution is now a reality.
Cisco on Wednesday unveiled ūmi, a new telepresence solution that essentially turns your TV into a high-definition webcam. Cisco ūmi connects an HDTV and a broadband Internet connection for wide-angle chat sessions right in the living room.
Cisco used its expertise in business video conferencing to produce a consumer version. The ūmi comes with an HD camera, a console, and a remote, and will adjust to lighting conditions and room size to produce desired video and audio performance, Cisco said. Users can pan the room, zoom in for a closer look, or pull back to see the full picture.
“Cisco ūmi will bring the unique telepresence experience into living rooms and change the way we are able to be together with family and friends,” Cisco chairman and chief executive John Chambers said in a statement. “We envision a future where technologies like this will play a role in connecting consumers with businesses to enable the delivery of new services, ranging from education, to health care, to financial services – to the home.”
“Video is literally the next voice,” Chambers said in a video message. Cisco introduced its enterprise telepresence solution four years ago, which Chambers said “changed the way we worked [and was] probably the most fundamental change in terms of what has occurred in the work environment since the Industrial Revolution and the assembly line.”
A solution for the home is the next step, he said.
The remote will allow users to make “ūmi calls,” access video messages, manage contacts, and customize a profile. The service also allows users to record themselves, and share those videos on Facebook, YouTube, or via e-mail. For times when you don’t want ūmi peaking into your lives, there are privacy features like call screening and blocking, and a camera shutter that closes.
If you miss a ūmi call, meanwhile, another ūmi user can leave you a video message; ūmi will alert you to these messages via text message or e-mail. Cisco ūmi will also support chat with non-ūmi users, provided they have a webcam and Google Video chat.
Cisco ūmi will debut on Nov. 14 for $599, plus a monthly fee of $24.99 for unlimited calls, video messaging, and video storage. It is now available for pre-order at umi.cisco.com. Best Buy will start accepting pre-orders on Oct. 18, and will have it in Best Buy/Magnolia Home Theater stores next month. Best Buy’s Geek Squad will provide support and help with installation.
Cisco is also partnering with Verizon to bring ūmi to Verizon FiOS customers by early next year. Verizon and Cisco have been conduting trials of ūmi over Verizon’s fiber network.
“We plan to be the first service provider to offer Cisco ūmi to our customers, delivering an amazingly clear and lifelike experience that brings family and friends into your living room,” Eric Bruno, vice president of consumer product management at Verizon, said in a statement.
To promote the product, Cisco said Oprah will use it on her show, while existing Cisco spokesperson and actress Ellen Page will also promote ūmi.