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Opinon: If you build it (in), they will video chat

November 25, 2011 | Hogan Keyser

November 21, 2011 by Stewart Wolpin via -- HDTV-based video telephony has always been a holy grail of sorts. It's such a natural milieu for video chatting -- big screen to get a broad view of the whole fam damily and all that.

But no TV-based video telephony system has been taken off, for one reason: You always had to buy two gadgets to attach to your HDTV to video telephonate, one for you and one for whomever you wanted to video telephonate with.

What we want is to video telephonate as we do on our laptops and desktop PCs, with anyone anytime, regardless of the HDTV we own and regardless of the video telephony gadget we have connected to it (if any).

Several recent developments -- and a future trend too long in the unveiling -- may expand this limited HDTV video telephony landscape and jump-start our (I believe) latent desire to WANT to video telephonate via our HDTVs.

At a pre-CES press soirée last week, a company called Biscotti demonstrated its eponymous HDTV video telephony gadget. Biscotti is named after the Italian cookie because the set-top gadget is exactly the same size and shape.

Biscotti is in many ways HDTV-based video telephony for the rest of us. It connects simply with two HDMI cables, one into it from your AV receiver or cable box, and one out to the TV, and comes with a simple remote control. And it's just $199 with no monthly service charge.

It's bite-size size and price puts Cisco's ridiculously over-priced (and pretentiously-named) ūmi telepresence system to shame. Ūmi requires a larger box and separate HDTV-top camera/mic thingy, is $400 for the 720p version and $500 for 1080p ($100 just to upgrade to 1080p?) -- for ONE set-up, so twice as much for the needed two, plus a $10/month subscription at both ends.

What am I, Donald Frigg in' Trump?

With pan, tilt and zoom capabilities and simple, tiny remote control, Biscotti is (relatively) cheap, tiny and impressive -- and doomed to failure, unless...

What's Wrong With It?

Like all previous and current HDTV-based video telephony solutions, such as Microsoft's Xbox 360 Video Kinect service, Biscotti is compatible only with itself for TV-to-TV chatting.

Regardless of its PC-to-HDTV video telephonic compatibility with Google video chat, this compatible-with-itself for HDTV-to-HDTV calling is a video telephony dead line.

What Biscotti needs is broader compatibility, perhaps with the Skype video telephony solutions being pushed by Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba.

Except you have to buy a Skype-compatible HDTV first (or, a Panasonic BDT210 and BDT310 Blu-ray player), then you have to buy a separate Freetalk $130 or Panasonic $170 set-top webcam array.

But there may soon be a plethora of Skype-compatible video set-top boxes, perhaps even Biscotti.

Skype has being more aggressive about imbuing its VoIP capabilities into PC applications and consumer electronics devices such as set-top boxes.

So maybe Biscotti will soon get Skype compatibility.

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