Our closest family is over 2000 miles away.  This means other than a few annual visits, our together time is relegated to phone calls and computer conferencing, both of which can be tough with four squirmy kids under six like I have. But recently, Cisco offered to allow my family the opportunity to try out their new Umi telepresence, which turns your TV into a Jetsons-era videoconferencing system, and I am blown away.

This system is, quite simply, a perfect–and perfectly amazing–example of how technology is connecting families today. Let’s just say My mother-in-law was rendered speechless, and that’s pretty hard to do.

The Cisco Umi telepresence system (pronounced You Me. Get it?) includes a camera which sits on the top of your television, and a box which allows you to dial the Umi number through a remote, and connect with other Umi users.

Cisco Umi telepresence review

To use the system, just turn it on, dial, and wait for the recipient to push the green “phone” button to answer. If no one is around, you can leave a recorded video message (so great!) which will alert them they turn on their TV again.

Using the remote, you can move the camera from right to left or zoom in and out, which is  brilliant when your 2 year-old is trying to show Grandma the boo-boo she got on her left knee. You can also set it up to see yourselves in a small inset image–helpful when you want the grandparents to focus on the kids, and not the pile of laundry a few feet away. But I like that you can toggle it off because kids are often distracted looking at themselves.

The Best Buy Geek Squad assisted us in our set up in about 15 minutes, but I was assured that the process was quite simple if you have an iota of tech savviness. In other words, I’d be willing to pay extra to have them install my in-laws’ system.

Now unlike the more common video conferencing options out there, the Umi does have some pretty steep requirements, like an HD TV, and a very high upload and download Internet speed to accommodate the 1020p HD resolution. Plus of course, you’ll be paying a monthly fee. But the difference between this and whatever videoconference options you’ve been using on your small PC screen is quite staggering. Forget the grainy, sometimes slow stuttering video you’re used to seeing on your computer; the Umi is like watching a film. You’ll truly feel like your family members are right there with you, making it a super investment if you’re a military family that really values your limited virtual time together, or simply a family separated by distance like we are.

I’m already imagining the kids opening their birthday gifts in front of the grandparents who sent them, and don’t even get me started on Christmas. Mamas? We’re entering The Age of the Umi. -Kristen

EXTRA COOL! Now through 5/21/11, the Cisco Umi telepresence is buy one get one free at Best Buy and the Cisco website. Whoo! For $499, you’ll get two Umis – one for you and one for your lucky recipient (Happy Mother’s Day and Father’s Day!). Make sure to check the Umi site for all the television and Internet requirements. And you can now also purchase the Cisco Umi with 720p HD resolution, also on BOGO special, which doesn’t require as fast an Internet speed.

Huge huge thanks to Cisco for providing me with twoUmi systems for review, an Internet upgrade, and six months of service.

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