The boob tube’s transformation from passive entertainment device to Web-enabled home appliance–essentially a big-screen computer–has taken another step forward. Panasonic and LG Electronics have announced plans to add Skype‘s video and voice calling software to their upcoming lineup of Internet-ready HDTVs.
With the right hardware, including a Skype-enabled TV and an HD webcam, families will be able to video chat in high-definition. Obviously, the grandparents-to-grandkids holiday call would be a natural for this type of setup.
Skype-to-Skype voice and video calls will be free, just as they are for PC users. Voice conference calls with up to 24 other parties are possible–although probably not desirable.
True, video calling via computer has been around for a few years. And since many laptops now have integrated webcams–meaning no additional hardware to buy–video chatting has never been easier for PC users.
But PC-based video calls are best suited to one-on-one communications. The display is small, and the video and audio capabilities aren’t designed for participants scattered across a living room.
A big-screen HDTV, however, could make home video conferencing a lot more popular, particularly with consumers who aren’t savvy laptop users. Panasonic will sell a specially designed video camera that plugs directly into its Skype-ready line of Viera Cast HDTVs. The camera has a microphone that easily picks up audio from “couch distance,” the company says, and that delivers 720p video–well, assuming the user’s Internet bandwidth can handle it.
There are many unanswered questions, though, including the total cost of the HDTV video hardware setup–and ease of use. Will Skype TV be a breeze to configure? And will it be worth the price, particularly if users only make a few video calls per year?