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Walt Mossberg : Real Bonding With Family Around the TV Via Skype

January 26, 2012 | Hogan Keyser
telyHD_tv_mount.jpgJanuary 25, 2012 by Walt Mossberg via -- As you read these words, millions of people are conducting video chats using the popular Skype service, now owned by Microsoft. Most of these calls are low-resolution encounters between two individuals, conducted over personal computers.

This week, I tested a new device that aims to transform Skype video chats into room-size experiences, involving whole families or groups of friends on each end--seeing each other, chatting and sharing photos in high definition using TVs. It's called telyHD, and comes from a small Silicon Valley start-up called Tely Labs. In my tests, it worked well.

This TV add-on product is a black, horizontal bar less than a foot long and under 3 inches high with a wide-angle lens and multiple built-in microphones. It installs quickly and easily--typically on top of the TV--and is controlled by a remote from across the room that can be used to place and answer calls, and to zoom and pan your image. It can connect to any other Skype-enabled device--including PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets--but some of its advanced features require a telyHD on both sides of the conversation.

The $250 telyHD isn't just a different way to use Skype. It's part of the race to reinvent the television--to make it a smarter, more versatile digital device. So-called smart TVs, Internet-enabled sets that connect to the Web and run apps, are offered by most major manufacturers. The telyHD device brings added functionality and connectivity to existing "dumb" HDTVs that lack built-in online features.

There is no monthly fee or subscription required by Tely Labs, and video calls between a telyHD and any other Skype device, including another telyHD, are free. You can also make free Skype-to-Skype audio calls, and audio calls to regular phones can be made at Skype's normal rates.

I've been testing telyHD in my family room on my aging Pioneer 50-inch plasma HDTV. I made multiple calls to people at the company using other telyHD units. And, with my wife at my side, in our usual seats, we made video calls to each of our out-of-state children, who were using Skype-equipped computers.

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