Verizon's working Minecraft cell phone makes blocky video calls

Video calls and Internet surfing in Minecraft are now possible with a Verizon cell phone that functions inside the game. Just don't expect high-def.

CaptainSparklez demonstrates video calling within Minecraft.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

You can do extraordinary things inside the world of Minecraft. You can reenact the entire first "Star Wars" movie. You can explore Stonehenge and the other wonders of Great Britain. You can step into a 1:1 scale version of the World of Warcraft map. But you haven't been able to make a phone call from within the blocky game. Until now.

Verizon got together with advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy and Minecraft design agency Blockworks to build a working cell phone within the boundaries of the game. The phone lets players make pixelated video calls and surf the Web. There's even a selfie-stick feature that lets you take a selfie and text it to a friend.

The video calls are probably the coolest aspect of the project. Dial someone in and you can see them translated into blocks. That person sees your avatar within Minecraft from the other end of the call.

The Web-browsing feature isn't quite as useful, but it's still plenty entertaining. Websites are once again translated into blocks, so you're not going to get a lot of detailed reading done.

Getting a cell phone to function in Minecraft took quite a bit of work. Verizon and its partners built a custom application called Boxel that takes Web pages and video and turns them into blocks, essentially putting the visual information into terms Minecraft can understand and serve up to players within the world.

A demonstration video with Minecraft expert Captain Sparklez shows how the cell phone build works. He creates the phone and builds a cell tower (an impressive four-level-tall structure). Streaming particles give a visual indication that the phone is connected to the tower. He puts it through its paces by loading websites and making a couple of video calls.

Experienced Minecraft players with some coding chops can toy with the open-source libraries and create new experiences that involve turning video into blocks. The project code is available through software site GitHub. You won't be conducting crucial video conferences or studying the minutiae of "Citizen Kane" with this capability, but it is a nifty addition to Minecraft's box of tricks.