I’ve seen it so many times in the movies and TV: a person wakes up in this futuristic world, walks by his kitchen, and a computerized voice is telling him that someone is calling him. But instead of picking up a receiver, the call is actually a video-call, and his TV is used for the conversation. If you put 2 and 2 together, this is not really that futuristic. Having a camera attached on your TV, and a VoIP SIP or Skype connection with it, is not mad science. So why don’t we already have this on our TVs?
Video-chat only recently started becoming popular. Sure, video-chat is not something new. It could be found 10 years ago in various IM protocols, in iChat AV, in some incarnations of VoIP SIP clients, or with Skype a few years later than that, Facetime these days. However, it still hasn’t taken off. We have the technology, and yet, it still remains something that most people either never used, or used once just to try it out and never tried again. Why is that?
I personally believe that what hindered the success of video calls is the vast majority of different protocols available. GTalk-Video can’t video-chat with Skype, or VoIP SIP, or AIM, or MSN, or 3G. Having a bunch of multi-IM protocol clients is not that difficult, but having multi-video protocol support is much more complicated, resulting in most people actually want to bother with video-chat.
I personally envision a future where video-calls via the phone, the tablet, the laptop, and the TV, are the norm, and are all compatible with each other. Maybe even go a step beyond, and have something like Yahoo! IM’s collaboration ability, where interactive data can also be sent during a call.
But before this happens, a single standard must emerge. Be it VoIP SIP, or GTalk, or FaceTime, or an open Skype, it has to be a universally accepted standard. Especially TV manufacturers would need such assurances before taking the plunge into such features, since their devices are often used by non-techies. So far, 10+ years into video-chat technologies, we still don’t have a common standard.
I understand that there are a lot of shy people who prefer the “anonymity” of the voice-only calls, but really, when you call Comcast to complain about your broken DVR and you end-up having to talk to someone with a strong accent, it sometimes pays off to be able to read their lips as a guidance to what they might be talking about. Or, calling family members while sitting on your sofa, I think it’s a really cool feature. I would love to be able to do this with my family in Greece.
Having a 720/30p wide-angle webcam, a stereo microphone and an IP connection incorporated on the TV won’t cost more than $30 for TV manufacturers. What’s missing is only the universally accepted standard — not the technical/hardware capability. And this is actually a very telling point about the reality of today’s market. Here we have all the really hard pieces of the puzzle already working, but no one can agree on the politics of the thing. Resulting in the consumer actually losing out.