The concept of video telephony is quite old. It has been around in any Sience Fiction movie or book and different telecommunication companies tried to establish such a service in the 90s or earlier. They all more or less failed. The german Telekom offered i.e. a very expensive ISDN video phone in ’97 but had to draw back soon. But in the meanwhile cheap web cams and fast internet connections made video chat on the computer quite popular. (And it’s also possible to place video calls on all new mobile phones and networks but i ve never seen anybody using it. It’s still just to expensive.)
The general idea of video telephony is quite obvious and seams to be the next step after the good old telephone wich has been around for someting like 100 years. But is the image really a usefull addition to the voice? Is it maybe more interesting to see what the telephone partner is seeing? In fact I am myself not a very big fan of video chat. It does often distract me, there is certain loss of privacy and some people do look more at their own image than to the other person. I am sure there have been a lot of discussions, researches and PhDs on video telephony but I am not going into all these details and relations of sound, voice, image, no image etc.
I think there is one very crucial moment about the video image showing a portrait. If we talk to a person face to face (and this is what video chatting tries to imitate) you normally do have eye contact. You just look at each other, not all the time and depending on your personality and cultural background, but you do have certainly eye contact. And this is very important for communication. I believe one of the main reasons why video chat doesn’t really appeal to me is the missing eye contact. Both participants look at their screens but the web cam is next to the screen. Video chat today is more like observing your friend while he/she is looking at the screen. Even the tiny cams very close to the screen in notebooks don’t really help. Your partners view seams still a bit offset.
“Here is looking at you, Kid.” is a low tech hardware work around for this serious problem. The simple screen addon is made of a mirror, some glass with spy mirror foil and an piece of card board and will bring the full experience of eye contact to you. The video image of the partner is literally detatched from the screen by two mirrors and shifted in front of the integrated notebook cam. While the viewer enjoys the vido image he/she is now looking at the same time exacly into the camera behind the spy mirror. In the field of TV industrie this setup is well known as a telepromter. Screen and notebook manufacturers should consider this phenomenon and should work on an idea how to integrate the web cam within/behind the TFT screen.
I’ll try to manage a full DIY manual ASAP but I assume you can already figure out by the pictures how to get this going. Please note that of course both participants need this screen addon to make the effect work.
Thx to Holger for bouncing ideas and photo shooting!
All pics on flickr.