Let's face it: It doesn't matter how high quality the video is. Chatting over Skype or FaceTime doesn't do a lot of good if the call is between the hearing and the deaf and only the latter know sign language.
Now, following a successful release in California in April, the SmartVP videophone by Purple Communications is available free of charge to the deaf and hard-of-hearing nationwide, and it manages to solve the signing conundrum.
SmartVP enables people to sign through what is called the Video Relay Service (VRS), an FCC-regulated service that connects ASL interpreters with users in real-time so that hearing and deaf individuals can communicate.
The phone is based on Tely Labs' telyHD device and integrates HD video with accessibility features and apps using the Android OS and a wide-hangle HD camera that can send and receive up to 720P between SmartVP systems.
Beyond basic video calls, users can simultaneously access a range of apps, check the weather or YouTube, look up numbers on Yellow Pages, and peruse a library of captioned movies and TV shows.
While the system is rooted in a stationary TV set, it's a step in the right direction for a cohort that hasn't been able to call, say, their child's teacher or 911 in an emergency.