Videophones: A Brief History


On June 3, 1880 Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated what he considered one of his greatest inventions, the photophone. By using the sound of a human voice to vibrate a sunlit mirror towards a receiving device, Bell was able to transmit sound over an invisible beam of light.

In 1964, The Bell System showed off the first video phone at the New York World’s Fair. At $21 (about $120 in today’s dollars), for a three minute PicturePhone call, the service between New York, Washington and Chicago was short lived. A new boxy version was released in 1969. But videophones didn’t get far in the 60s when each party needed a T-1 line.

AT&T tried again with the VideoPhone 2500 introduced in 1992. It was billed as the world’s first full-color, motion videophone. It worked in any home using regular phone lines. But the resulting low frame rate made awful pictures and the $1500 units were too expensive.

Forty years later, the technology may be catching on. Or not.

The Packet8 desktop phone (below) is giving it a shot. Their one-piece videophone uses a broadband connection to transmit audio and video. It was initially listed for $299 plus a $29.95 monthly fee. It uses Packet 8’s VoIP service.

Motorola’s $600 OJO Videophone (right) includes a 2.4 GHz cordless phone with DSL and image compression

Video4skype, allows anyone with a VoIP Skype account to make video-calls.

Skype announced Skype 2.0 beta release, which features video (on Windows machines).

Video messaging could be the next big thing.

AOL, a unit of Time Warner, is currently the instant messaging market leader with AIM which has a share of 56 percent. Microsoft’s MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger can now swap instantaneous text messages with each other. Google Talk, Google’s messaging and VOIP application, can be Video enabled with a plug-in from Festoon.

And then there’s Flash Meeting software which offers a free download of their easy-to-use videoconferencing application.

The upstream capacity of cellular’s EV-DO and HSPDA networks (about 56Kbps) may limit mobile video calls for the immediate future. Mobile users may need WiFi or WiMax, which is capable of 256 Kbps or faster upstream. Soon MPEG-4 AVC chips could deliver high quality images, indoor and out.

Now it’s Sony’s turn.

Sony’s new Instant Video Everywhere service is said to replicate the traditional telephone experience, making IP-based video and voice communications similar to placing a phone call.

The IVE service features personal video numbers, multi-person calling, video call mailbox, and live video operators.

Sony is partnering with Glowpoint to offer free, unlimited video and voice service for consumers worldwide.

Like Skype, IVE also will feature a premium service that lets users dial traditional wireline phones and cell phones from their computers. A monthly fee of $9.95 for the premium service includes a 10-digit phone number so IVE users can receive calls from regular and mobile phones.

IVE allows customers to place video and audio calls to cell phones, telephones, and any other traditional conferencing system, and communicate face-to-face from any broadband enabled location or WiFi “hotspots”.

Sony IVE is a Windows-based application that works with Windows 2000/XP software. No “Mac” version is available yet. The Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and H.323 standards are used in the network. The GlowPoint Network uses an MPLS (Multiple Protocol Layer Switching) backbone, while the GlowPoint Video is a managed QoS IP-based system. Resolutions of 640×480 or better are possible with enough bandwidth.

With the IVE service, customers are not limited to talking only to other video users on the same proprietary service. The IVE service allows all users to directly contact all other standards-based video users and even those who do not have video access or Webcams.

Sony’s video conferencing service features:

  • Personal Video Numbers: IVE users each get their own personal video number with which they can easily place and receive video and audio calls.
  • Multi-Person Calling: Users can include up to six people in an audio or video conversation.
  • Video Call Mailbox: Video and voice callers can leave a video or voice message when an IVE user is not available. IVE users can also personalize their full-motion video outgoing messages.
  • Live Video Operators: Users have “one-click” access to a Live Video Operator available for directory assistance, call transfer and more.
  • MyIVE User Portal: Allows real-time online call detail, access to Video Call Mailbox messages, and more.
  • “Lisa,” the IVE Video Call Assistant: With “Lisa,” a friendly face alerts you when your outgoing calls can not be completed because the person you’re trying to reach is unavailable or the number may not be correct.
  • IVE Video Portal: Instant access to previews of feature motion pictures, special promotions for new Sony products, IVE service updates, video customer service and more.

Sony said the IVE service replicates the traditional telephone experience, making IP-based video and voice communications similar to placing a phone call. The service features include personal video numbers, multi-person calling, video call mailbox, live video operators and more.

Sony also has a product called LocationFreeTV which consists of two pieces, an untethered 12-inch or 7-inch LCD screen, and a “base station.” The LCD screen displays video programming that it receives over a WiFi link from the base station. It also works with Sony’s PSP.

Enterprise level video conferencing has been around for a while.

High definition videoconferencing, is alive and well in a hospital in Norway (right), which is the first customer of the LifeSize Room product. It features 1280×720 resolution over a 1 mbps connection, and promises to connect to any high definition display. It uses h.264 compression and can also stream content from PC’s to be shared over the connection.

Polycom is introducing a high def conferencing system. The company plans a US$6,000 upgrade kit for its high-end VSX 8000 group conferencing unit in the second quarter of 2006.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) $51 million teleconferencing network is being built with the help of Northrop Grumman. The DISA provides communications technology for the White House, the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Defense Video System version II (DVS-II), upgrades the current network from digital to IP video and audio conferencing.

It uses Cisco’s IP Video Conferencing (IPVC) 3540 Multipoint Control Unit and MeetingPlace IP voice/video conferencing software. Radvision’s iVIEW multimedia conferencing middleware, integrates applications such as Microsoft Office, is another large part of the infrastructure.

Of course Apple’s $1,299 iMac G-5 (review) has a built-in iSight camera, for iChat AV with H.264.

Requirements 1-to-1 Audio Conference 10-Person Audio Conference 1-to-1 Video Conference 4-Person Video Conference
To Initiate (Host) System Required Any G3, G4 or G5 processor 1GHz G4, dual 800 MHz G4 or any G5 600MHz G3, any G4 or any G5 Dual 1GHz G4, any G5
Bandwidth Required 56Kbps Internet connection (up/down) 128Kbps Internet connection (up/down) 100Kbps Internet connection (up/down) 384Kbps Internet connection (up/down)
To Participate System Required Any G3, G4 or G5 processor Any G3, G4 or G5 processor 600MHz G3, any G4 or any G5 1GHz G4, dual 800 MHz G4 or any G5
Bandwidth Required 56Kbps Internet connection (up/down) 56Kbps Internet connection (up/down) 100Kbps Internet connection (up/down) 100Kbps Internet connection (up/down)

Judy Reed Smith, founder and CEO of Atlantic-ACM, told TechNewsWorld she is somewhat skeptical about the demand for Sony’s new service. After all, she said, AT&T debuted a video phone at the World Fair in the 1960s that got plenty of attention but never went anywhere.

Meanwhile, Skype, bought by eBay this September, will make a national rollout on Monday. More than 3,000 RadioShack locations nationwide will begin offering a Skype Starter Kit, which includes the software that enables a customer to use Skype’s free computer-to-computer telephone service, a headset and 30 minutes of Skype’s premium service, with which a user can call a landline or cell phone, reports C/Net.

The move is an attempt by Skype, the world’s largest provider of voice over Internet Protocol, to introduce its service to mainstream America. Before this deal, U.S. consumers could only get Skype service by downloading the software from the Internet. SkypeOut’s 1 million paying customers represent a bit less than 4 percent of current registered users for its free Skype service.

In related news:

Wired has the whole story on that Sony rootkit affair.

Initial estimates are that more than half a million computers worldwide are infected with this Sony rootkit. Those are amazing infection numbers, making this one of the most serious internet epidemics of all time — on a par with worms like Blaster, Slammer, Code Red and Nimda.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

Leave a Reply