Skype goes HD video calling

Adds support for selected HDTVs

SKYPE HAS ANNOUNCED not only support for HD video calls in Beta 4.2 for Windows, but the company also intends to bring Skype to HDTVs from LG and Panasonic. HD in this case is 720p video and currently there aren’t any webcams on the market that seem to be compatible with the new HD video service. This is despite the fact that there are manufacturers out there with 720p capable devices already.

Skype is promoting new HD webcams that are set to arrive in ‘early 2010’ and which should be shown at CES. Two brands that we’re not familiar with are being promoted by Skype, namely FaceVision and In Store Solutions. FaceVision is a maker of professional video conferencing solutions from Taiwan, while In Store Solutions seems to be more of a distributor of various communications related products.

The model from faceVision is called the FV TouchCam N1 and it has an embedded H.264 codec chip that offloads the computers CPU, although you’re limited to a frame rate of a mere 22fps which makes the whole HD thing a bit pointless. The N1 also incorporates dual microphones and of course USB 2.0 PC connectivity. There’s no word on pricing or availability as yet.

In Store Solutions have gone down a similar route by using a built in H.264 encoder, dual microphones and USB 2.0 connectivity. However, its two HD models, the Freetalk HD Pro and the Pro Plus are both capable of 30fps video at 720p resolution. The sensor of the Freetalk HD cameras is a 5 Megapixel unit and the cameras even offer manual focus which is something of a rarity in webcams these days. Price wise you’re looking at a rather steep $120 for the Pro model and $140 for the Pro Plus model – the Plus model has four microphones – and both models should be available in March from the Skype Shop.

The bad news? Well, you’ll need an Internet connection with roughly 1Mbit upload speed so Skype HD won’t really work on mobile connections, nor on slower internet connections, no matter the technology. It might also be a bad idea to use Skype HD if you have a monthly data limit as it’s likely to chew away on the limit quite quickly. Still, it’s a step forward if you’ve felt that the current quality of interweb video conferencing just isn’t up there with your HD life style.

So what about the HDTV integration? Well, for starters only two partners have signed up which as mentioned earlier are LG and Panasonic. Both companies will provide custom webcams for their TV sets and there will be support for Skype HD of course. LG is adding support to 26 new TV models which are set to launch at CES, so if you want Skype on your LG TV, make sure it supports NetCast Entertainment Access, whatever that is. Panasonic will add Skype to its 2010 line of Viera Cast enabled models, although the company didn’t go as far as specifying how many new models would offer Skype support.

We’re not quite sure how you’re supposed to make calls, but presumably the custom webcams will feature a built in microphone setup of some kind. Sure, it could be great to have Skype on your TV for those family moments when you want to call granny and granddad, as long as they’ve figured out how to use it on their end, but we can’t see this as being a huge selling point of new HDTVs. However, for those with a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, we can see a new line of adult rated Skype services being launched using the new HD video technology on a large screen TV.S|A

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