Ever since person-to-person video conferencing was introduced, engineers have tried to improve the connection. Recently, they had a breakthrough -- not so much in implementation but in developing a product at a price every business can afford. Intel is now selling a desktop package for less than $2,500 that enables one PC user to see and talk with another PC user at a remote site. What's more, both users can call up the same file and work on it simultaneously. The new package, ProShare Personal Conferencing Video System 200, includes a video camera, a video board, a phone board, a headset, and software.

The second person -- sometimes an important customer -- also has to acquire a system, making on-screen togetherness a $5,000 proposition. Nonetheless, when asked to test the product, even small companies subscribed to it. VLMK Engineers, a structural-engineering business in Portland, Oreg., has been using it to exchange data internally while modifying the project in real time. As with the advent of the fax machine, the technology "could completely change the way we do business, in that the transfer of information will be accelerated," says VLMK engineer Gary Lewis. Echoes Michael Malone, a principal at market researcher Market Strategies in Portland, "the major benefit is the avoidance of misunderstanding. I can watch a customer and see how he or she is reacting to the material we're discussing."

The system requires a 33-megahertz 486 PC connected to ISDN phone service (available in most major cities at a slight extra cost). Each conferee's image appears in a movable section of a Windows screen; the remainder of the screen is devoted to the application, which can be edited, penned on, or pointed to from either desktop. The system is also available without video. For more information, inquire through Intel's ISDN Connectivity Information Center at 800-538-3373, extension 208.

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