While Skype has a hardcore audience that has used it for years, in the popular consciousness it's constantly weaving in and out of view. A while ago, phones with Skype capabilities were all the rage, but where are they now? The idea of video chat has been in the news of late as Fring has tussled with Apple over the use of the iPhone camera.
But what is Skype? Is it a program that, like pretender Apple FaceTime, is designed to bring families together? If so, then it makes sense to integrate into a device the family regularly sits around: the television.
Panasonic has taken this idea and run with it, and several of the company's new TVs including the VT and V series feature Skype access. Unfortunately, you'll need a Viera TV with USB ports to use the service and third-party cameras won't work.
The camera itself features a wide-angle lens, meaning everyone in the family can fit in, and six microphones for better quality audio.
Hooking the camera up was an easy process — plug it into a spare USB slot and boot up the Skype client under VieraCast.
Making calls was a simple process and video and audio quality was good on both sides of the conversation. Quit out of the application and it lays dormant in the background — a pop-up window will appear in the corner if someone calls you.
It's this functionality that still needs some ironing out; for example, if you opt to take the call it will sometimes simply time out for the caller as the TV loads back into Skype. But the receiver is often left with a blank screen and a confused look as to why. Additionally, we couldn't find any way to turn off background calls and this could be unnecessarily distracting in the long term.
Like the Skype phones the appeal of these cameras will be quite niche. Will we see this trend extend to televisions in the future? Who knows? Panasonic's software could do with some work, and we wish we could use any third-party camera, but this solution is more likely to endure over Twitter on your TV.
The Panasonic Skype interface (Credit: Ty Pendlebury/CNET Australia)