Monday, July 12, 2010

Live video tech is catching up with promises

DALLAS — In a series of TV ads in 1993, AT&T pitched a vision of a near-future absolutely brimming with live video communication.
From a busy mom tucking her kids in bed from a video phone booth and a barefoot exec participating in a business meeting from the beach to a student quizzing a professor about the history of jazz from across the country, narrator Tom Selleck confidently promised that "You will!" soon be doing all those Jetsonian tricks.

Seventeen years later, the technology is catching up.

The question now is whether anyone wants to use it.

Cell phones, video game consoles, hotel meeting rooms and even video phone sex providers are offering real-time video communication that is far more sophisticated than the glitchy, computer-bound webcams of yore.

Video chat gets boost

Apple Inc. probably gave video chat its biggest boost with the launch of the iPhone 4. The phone includes a front-facing camera and software called FaceTime for users to make video calls over Wi-Fi.

"I grew up dreaming about this, and it's real now," a beaming Steve Jobs said during the unveiling.

Apple, which said it sold 1.7 million iPhone 4s in the first three days of availability, isn't the only tech company renewing the conversation over video chat.

HTC Corp. and Richardson-based Samsung Telecommunications America are also pushing video chat-capable smart phones, while Microsoft Corp. is touting the camera in its upcoming Kinect motion gaming accessory for the Xbox 360 console as a tool for gamers to videoconference with each other on their TVs.

And entrepreneurs are coming up with unexpected ways to use that technology.

Cisco Systems Inc. and Dallas-based AT&T Inc. are promoting a high-end system called "telepresence" that allows high-definition videoconferencing.

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