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Highfive? Videoconferencing may have just become affordable

Highfive? Videoconferencing may have just become affordable
Highfive videoconferencing units go on sale Tuesday for $799 with companies needing more than 10 participants also subject to a monthly fee. (Highfive)

A new start-up says it can make teleconferencing much less painful.

The $799 device unveiled Tuesday by Highfive, a San Francisco start-up, eliminates annoying PINs and confusion over how to get phones and video screens working. Highfive is like an Apple TV with a 1080p HD camera and a microphone with a 30-foot range attached. 

Highfive Chief Executive Shan Sinha, a former Google Apps executive, said it should take no more than two minutes to connect to a TV. It's designed to sit on a wall mount or on top of a TV.

Calls start on a smartphone or tablet app and are then beamed onto a TV screen, using the app as the Bluetooth remote. Participants get a link to open the call in the app or a Web browser after downloading a plug-in.

"If someone else comes in and kicks you out of the conference room, no need to end the call and start over," Sinha said. "With Highfive, you can just pull the call back to the phone and go into another room without interrupting the call."

For now, participants (other than guests) will need to share the same corporate email domain (@latimes.com, for example). The communication is encrypted, Sinha said. Audio-only and screen sharing are among other features.

Bringing the price of the technology down from the thousands of dollars Cisco and Polycom charge for videoconferencing systems wasn't possible until a couple of years ago, Sinha said. He and his colleagues took advantage of parts similar to those in smartphones and the slipping cost of the back-end computing infrastructure needed to securely transmit video in real time.

Sinha thought it was a challenge worth pursuing because he saw at Google how video transforms a company.

"People feel better connected and decisions are made faster," he said. Early customers have included online retailers Shutterfly and Overstock.com.

The technology is part of a recent wave in productivity tools seeking to improve communication inside businesses with start-ups often serving as early adopters.

"We're lucky to be 10 years into a 50-year or 100-year change into how people communicate," said Stewart Butterfield, chief executive of rapidly-growing San Francisco start-up Slack Technologies Inc.

Butterfield describes Slack as a chat platform that doubles as a searchable archive of a company's history because it can pull in data from services such as Twitter or Google Hangouts.

"A new employee is able to scroll back and see who answers what kinds of questions, who has power over certain decisions," Butterfield said. "That's versus day one with totally empty email inboxes at most places."

Twitter: @peard33

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