Tandberg is getting personal, with three IP videoconferencing appliances aimed at desktops and small group conferences.

It wants to use IP to make videoconferencing ubiquitous, but says that for best quality and ease of use, a separate device is still preferable to loading software onto an existing PC. The new products start with the Tandberg 150, a self-contained unit that features an 8.4 inch LCD screen, built-in high-resolution camera, speakers and microphone.

"The T150 brings video communication to the masses. It's no longer just an executive tool," says Allan Jackson, European voice manager for H.J. Heinz, which beta-tested the device in the UK. "Since we moved to IP, not only are calls free, but the user experience is so good that people are knocking on my door asking for more video across the organisation."

The 150 can handle calls up to 512kbit/s over an IP connection. An optional handset is available or users can use a headset/microphone for greater privacy. It does have AES encryption support for those needing the added security, but does not contain a built-in multipoint control unit (MCU) for hosting small conferences without the need for a bridge or conference hosting service.

Polycom, Tandberg's chief competitor, offers a software-only endpoint for desktop conferencing that runs on a PC with a USB camera, but Tandberg insists there is a place for an appliance on the desk. "You don't have to use your computer or start it when you want to do a video call," says Snorre Kjesbu, vice president of innovation at Tandberg. "You can have the computer next to you with information that you may need in the conversation."

Also, Tandberg is introducing the 1500 MXP and 2000 MXP units targeted at individual executives and conference attendees at small conference rooms, respectively. The 1500 MXP comes with a 17 inch XGA screen that can double as a computer monitor, automatically switching between PC and conferencing mode when a call comes in. It includes a camera, speakers and microphone as well as an optional built-in MCU that can connect four video endpoints and three phones simultaneously in a call. 802.11b wireless capability is also built in for those rooms without an Ethernet socket.

The 2000 MXP is similar to the 1500, but comes with a 23 inch LCD XGA screen. It too can double as a PC monitor, but is better suited for showing a local presentation to a group rather than everyday PC use. Both the 1500 MXP and 2000 MXP can handle a call bandwidth up to 2Mbit/s, and all the new devices are capable of H.264 video compression and AES encryption.

Tandberg says that, next year, it will start rolling out firewall traversal technology that will allow individual units to tunnel through firewalls, a key problem for IP videoconferencing today. The firewall technology, which will be available through a software upgrade, comes via Tandberg's May 2004 acquisition of Ridgeway Systems.

"We need more transparent technologies behind the scenes to increase the usage of visual communications, especially between organisations," says Jean Roshower, marketing director at Tandberg.

All three of the new units are SIP-ready, Kjesbu says, with full SIP support scheduled for the first quarter of 2005. Any of the MXP line of machines will be able to support SIP through a software upgrade.

Tandberg is already shipping the 150, 1500 MXP and 2000 MXP. The 150 is £2800, the 1500 MXP costs from £4950 and the 2000 MXP starts at £8900.