Go back in time to 1964 for a moment. Remember the Picturephone? It was one of the breakout devices of the future, showcased for the world to see at the New York World’s Fair. Take that phone, dial someone and see that person when the connection is made, no matter how far, in bright black-and-white.
That ability, then unattainable, is now available in living high-definition color. Pick the label–video telephony, home videoconferencing, home telepresence, video calls–that ability connects TV sets and remote controls, not phones. It’s not far-fetched to declare this may become the most social of social media, with some exciting possibilities to dial up, if the masses embrace it.
The masses are not right now. Skype, just acquired by Microsoft, is in a few advanced/smart TV sets. Cisco’s Umi approach is flunking, largely because the price is too high and the infrastructure too cumbersome for many people. And one of the best video call services I’ve seen, a feature of Logitech’s Google TV-fueled Revue set-top terminal introduced last fall, is in jeopardy thanks to Logitech’s decision last week to ax Revue when its box inventory runs out.
Video telephony enters this week television’s sleeper medium at the crossroads. One road leads to slumber forever, the other takes the public along for an exciting, beneficial ride. Yes, the ability to see loved ones anytime from home or away, and them seeing you, can be priceless by itself. It’s an all-around win if the process is affordable and user-friendly. Yet imagine who else can be reachable anytime on a video call: the teacher or tutor using computer graphics and other multimedia to expand your child’s horizons; the doctor with vital health information; the travel guide with great places to visit; the confidant you depend on to make hotel, airline and restaurant reservations. All at your display when you choose.
The trick now is for someone to break the ice. Under Microsoft, Skype could become the equivalent of Android or IPhone/Pad if it can attract the majority of TV set makers and/or multichannel distributors. Cisco already is a cable/satellite set-top provider, and could leverage that relationship with Umi in a less-costly capacity to viewers. Ditto Google/Google TV 2.0 upon taking over Motorola Mobility, the other big cable/satellite box factor. Not to mention firing up the imaginations of 200,000-plus Android developers for a versatile video call service.
Will any of these companies, or someone not on anyone’s radar screen yet, wake up the public to home telephony? I’m leaning yes, on the basis of the extraordinary benefits realizable. We’ll see, or not, for sure.
Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!