As we've reported, both LG and Panasonic have both partnered up with Skype to bring video telephone -- that's videophone in non-jargon -- to HDTVs. For this first generation, you'll have to clap an LG webcam with built-in microphones on top of your pretty panel, but everyone knows next year's models -- or maybe even the HDMI 1.4 3D models due later this year -- will have the webcam/mic built-in, just like on a laptop PC.
It's this built-in webcam that may make this videophone a mainstream cultural phenomena. If everyone has a TV with a webcam (eventually), everyone will be able to videophone without any extra equipment.
We got a closer look at the LG Skype system. You'll need this year's NetCast-equipped LG HDTVs, due this spring (40 percent of the company's lineup), to make it work -- the Skype video app will be included. You can either sign in to your existing Skype account or create on in the app -- how you do this isn't clear yet. The LG webcams (you can't use an off-the-shelf model) will run around $100 when they're available in the spring.
When a video call (or, presumably, any Skype call) comes in, you'll be asked if you want to accept or decline. Upon acceptance, the phone call will replace whatever you're watching (hopefully you'll be DVR'ing whatever you were watching). As you can see in the photos, you can blow up your caller full screen and keep yourself in a PIP, or dual a side-by-side view (yeah, that's me with a camera up to my face shooting the photo you're looking at).
In the demo, the resolution wasn't great, but in the real world with a coax cable connection we're told you'll get 720p at a full 30 fps. We were also told with echo cancellation you'll have full duplex audio -- you'll be able to talk over your caller and still hear each other -- but the hall was too noisy to test this.
You can call anyone with Skype video, even on or from a PC, although right now Mac and Linux-based PCs only do VGA. Skype is working on boosting both to HD.
The sixty-four dollar question is -- do you want to be seen? Obviously if you have an aversion to video phoning you won't get this, but what if a call comes in right after you've gotten out of the shower or you're half-dressed or you don't have your make-up on or you're...um, busy, and it's mom on the line? It's unclear if you'll have a third "audio-only" choice in the initial "Accept" or "Decline" phase. If not, you'll just have to stay out of the wide angle camera range if you can until you're presentable or have a chance to quickly hit the "Stop My Video" option before too much is revealed.