SPEAKING face to 50-inch face will be possible later this year thanks to Panasonic, but only if you buy one of its latest 3D TVs and a $200 webcam.
Along with its V20 and V25 series of HD 1080p 3D TVs, Panasonic announced partnerships with Skype, Youtube and Twitter among others. However it most heavily promoted its association with Skype.
Skype CEO Josh Silverman was on hand to lend some marketing spin at the press conference yesterday, touting the popularity of video calling on Skype. According to his figures, a third of all calls made on Skype are video chats. He wasn't quite as forthcoming as to what percentage of calls are SkypeOut, however.
Essentially Panasonic has implemented a Skype client within its walled-garden Viera Cast system. There's no real difference between making and receiving calls using Skype on your PC and on a Panasonic Viera telly. Calls can also be ignored if the viewer is engrossed in a film or TV show. However after that things start to go a bit south.
Should you accept the call, there's no picture-in-picture for either party, so you are automatically punted off whatever you were watching and end up face-to-face with your caller. Panasonic didn't say why picture-in-picture isn't available but we can make some educated guesses.
Skype is a resource hog at best. Panasonic says that Skype video will be up to 720p quality, which is great until you realise what demands that will place on both CPU usage, for encoding and decoding of sound and video, and bandwidth. Even a fairly brawny late model PC will start to break a sweat if you Skype call with video at high quality. So a television that will have to do all that plus some more for the primary sound and picture feed might not have the raw processing power or could start to have heat issues, should the chips inside be able to cope.
The Panasonic representative said picture-in-picture will be available in the future, but if the current limitation is hardware then expect to get hit with an expensive replacement cycle a year or so down the line.
Things get even less stellar when you realise that the video camera required for this is an additional $200 item over and above the base cost of the TV set itself. Not only are you shelling out for a high-end 3D telly that could be outdated by the end of the year but you're also having to buy a USB webcam at over-the-odds pricing.
Panasonic also announced that it will be partnering with DirecTV in the US and sponsoring three 3D TV channels there. However what is clear from both yesterday's announcement by Samsung and talking to Panasonic representatives is that television vendors will have to work with content producers in order to create content and demand for these wallet busters.
Of course if you are without 3D content you can always wait for someone to call you on Skype, if you don't mind moving away from Corrie that is. µ