Cisco has announced a home HD video conferencing system called Umi (as in you-me), designed to "bring family and friends to the living room
at the touch of a button".
To be honest, this isn't anything that you couldn't do for next to nothing on Skype, but when you're dealing with grandparents and other potentially less tech-oriented people, it probably helps to keep things as simple as possible.
The Umi system consists of a set top box with remote, and an HD camera that mounts on the top of your TV. With a fast Internet connection, the system can send and receive 1080p video, and will automatically drop down to 720p or 480p if the connection is slower. Umi is compatible with Google Voice and Video Chat, so you're not going to need Umi systems at both ends to make it work, a good thing considering the $599 price tag for the hardware.
One potential problem is that with crystal clear 1080p video at both ends, you're going to want to keep your room pretty tidy if you don't want to get flak whenever mom calls. Luckily the Umi camera has tilt, pan, and zoom features, so you can steer the caller's view away from any messy areas. There's even a motorized shutter to cut off the video completely, just in case mom calls when you happen to be sitting there with no pants on.
The biggest catch however is likely to be the $25 monthly subscription fee, which adds up to real money pretty quickly. You can get a complete Panasonic TV with built in Skype for a little over $1000, and the video calls are only pennies per minute. How much do the kids really want to talk to grandma anyway?
Umi will be available from Best Buy Magnolia stores starting November 14th.