Video phones were one of those things we all thought would be amazing if they turned up in the 80s. The technology of the day -- analogue phone exchanges and rotary dial phones -- weren't quite up to the job though. In the 21st century, the idea's gone off the boil -- BT keeps trying to talk us into face-to-face services, but no one's buying it. Could a free solution take off? Panasonic thinks so. Its new TVs for 2010 can incorporate a webcam and Skype to provide free video calls on your plasma.
The system works with TVs that have the company's VieraCast Internet interface. People buying a 2010 model will have access to a full, video-capable Skype service. Video is encoded by the optional camera, so the TV doesn't have to do any of the processing -- a neat way of making sure the cost of the system is borne by those who actually want to use it. The camera also features four microphones, designed to pick-up sound from every member of the family.
Status updates from your contacts are shown on the specially designed, full-screen interface. You can place calls at the touch of a button and within a few seconds enjoy video from your friends and family delivered via the Internet at 22 frames per second.
Although the service will work best when it's used TV-to-TV, it's perfectly possible to call a laptop or other Skype device too. Calls are free on the Skype network, which is a massive boon too, especially with broadband being so cheap these days. BT is likely to be rather upset about this, but we can't help but think Panasonic is on to a winner here. And with Skype being a cross-platform service, perhaps other manufacturers will integrate it too.
To see the service in action, click 'Continue' and take a look at the following photos. As soon as we can get our hands on one of these TVs, we'll be sure to show you how well the system works.
The sharp-looking camera -- essential to make Skype video calling possible -- has four built-in microphones to pick up sound from the whole family.
The camera also encodes the video, which means the TV simply has to pass the stream to the Skype servers -- a good way of keeping the TV costs low.
As you might expect, the user interface is designed for use on the TV. Sitting on a sofa you'd have no problem at all reading the status updates on-screen.
When a call comes in, you're notified with a little logo, and the name of the caller. Handy if you're trying to avoid someone. We never liked Jane and Jenny anyway.