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Panasonic, Skype team up on TV that makes free phone/video calls

January 5, 2010 |  3:27 pm


Upcoming Panasonic TVs will be able to make online video calls. Credit: Panasonic/Skype.

Soon, folks won't think you're crazy if you talk back to a TV set.

Consumer electronics giant Panasonic said today that the Skype online phone and video service will be available on a line of its Internet-enabled, high-definition televisions that will be available in the spring. The system will use a Panasonic camera/microphone device (sold separately) that will plug directly into the TV.

The announcement by the companies said the microphone will be able to pick up sound from "couch distance." The image of the person on the other end of the line, if video is used, will appear on the TV screen in resolution quality up to 720p. That's not the highest HDTV quality -- which is 1080p -- but better than what is produced by regular DVDs. However, getting the best image quality on the calls will very much depend on the quality of the Internet connection.

Skype video calls are nothing new -- the service launched for computers in 2006. But Skype Chief Executive Josh Silverman said it was important to bring it to home televisions. "TVs will no longer be just the center of people’s entertainment experience," Silverman said, "but have the potential to be the center of people’s communications experience."

No prices were given for the upcoming TV sets. A Skype spokeswoman said the price of the camera/microphone devices to be offered will cost between $100 and $200.

Calls between Skype-enabled TVs -- or from one of the TVs to a Skype-equipped computer or mobile device -- will be free. Calls between one of the TVs and non-Skype phones will have a cost.

The announcement was made in Las Vegas, where the electronics world is gathering for the Consumer Electronics Show that opens formally Thursday. But Wednesday, the big guns in TV -- including Panasonic -- are scheduled to introduce their products for the new year.

-- David Colker