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“Talking Head” has Media Circles Abuzz

Thanks to a less than 10-pound lunchbox-size device, the Afghan war has invaded our living rooms. The “Talking Head” is proving an invaluable tool for the lone TV journalist reporting from flashpoints around the world.

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Sleek and compact -The 7E ‘Talking Head’ series video reporter unit

The images are familiar by now - television correspondents barking out terse reports with menacing Afghan fighters lurking in the background and sporadic gunfire ringing out on mountainous terrain. The "Talking Head" videophone is the latest newsgathering tool aimed at providing live coverage of events from literally anywhere in the world.

The videophone has been developed by British company 7-E Communications Ltd., based in London, which refers to the device as its "Talking Head" series video reporter unit.

Rugged and portable

The TH-1 videophone comes along with a small monitor. It’s portable and simple. All it requires is a ISDN satellite telephone and a small camera, and can be easily carried and operated by a single reporter.

The Talking Head transfers image and sound into ISDN signals. These are then sent by satellite phone through the INMASAT satellite network to the respective television broadcasters. It’s the only satellite broadcasting system that doesn’t require a delivery vehicle to transport it.

The videophone can fit into an aeroplane’s overhead compartment, can be powered by a main’s source or a car battery and has all the audio and video interfaces reporters need.

From nerve centres to the back-of-beyond

The company has been inundated with orders ever since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

Peter Beardow, managing director of 7-E Communications Ltd. Says, "With this device you can send television images from any point on earth...from deserts, mountains and from the sea. You’ll only run into difficulties at the North- and South pole, where there aren’t any connections to satellites."

Grainy and unsteady - not the best quality

One drawback that the Talking Head suffers from is the poor video quality. Images are often grainy and wobbly and the sound distorted at times. But there’s no denying that when it comes to transmitting live images for breaking stories from conflict spots around the world, the videophone has proved invaluable.

Even CNN used Talking Head to grab footage of the release of American service personnel by Chinese authorities after the American spy plane crash-landed on China’s Hainan Island in April this year. The footage may have led to controversy, but CNN was after all the only news network with any footage on the event at all.

Given the conditions, the compact Talking Head seems to be made for reporting live under extreme conditions.

Improved quality at a modest price?

And the technology is also being improved upon. 7-E has already brought out a new model, the TH-2, which can link two InMarSat phones to send video and audio at 128 KBPS. Which in other words means improved quality.

And the best thing about the Talking Head? Its relatively reasonable price at 70,000 DM. Most television networks often pay ten times that amount for conventional transmission equipment with a satellite dish.

Today about 400 Talking Head systems are in use world-wide.