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What is a Videophone?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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A videophone is a form of remote communication which allows the user to transfer not only a voice signal, but also a visual video signal. The concept has been around since the 1960s, but has never caught on with the general public to the extent phone that manufacturers expected it to. The concept of a videophone is a vivid one in the public's mind, and is represented in virtually every depiction of a technological future -- from the Jetsons to modern science fiction movies. The idea of the videophone seems reasonable enough; given that people like hearing one another's voices while communicating, they would further enjoy seeing whom they are speaking to in real time. In practice, however, slow frame rates, expensive technology, and a lack of universality have all helped keep the videophone from becoming a pervasive method of communication.

While true videophone technology is meant to run through high-speed lines and offer excellent frame rates, when the videophone first made its real introduction to the general public, it was limited to existing phone lines and their severely limited bandwidth. This limited a videophone to a frame rate of 15 frames per second, which when coupled with jumps in picture from line noise made speaking via videophone a highly unpleasant experience. Better videophone technology has also historically been just beyond the price most consumers were willing to pay for a new, bug-ridden technology. A videophone could easily cost five to ten times as much as a decent cordless telephone, a price many people were unable to justify spending. In recent years, the cost of a videophone has gone down substantially, but it appears new technologies such as webcams may already be rendering the videophone obsolete.

Given its difficulty in gaining acceptance, the videophone has had another major setback in the market. As with many emerging technologies, early users found they had no one to interface with using their videophone. Since a critical mass of consumers wasn't reached quickly enough, many of those who initially purchased a videophone opted not to replace it once it wore out, since a user would often have only one or two friends who also had a videophone they could call.

One area in which the videophone has enjoyed a relatively high amount of popularity is in the business world. Using high-speed lines, many businesses use videophones as a matter of course to conduct remote meetings. Many make use of conference call capabilities to allow entire boards to meet without having to fly to the same location.

With the advent of high-speed Internet connections and extremely cheap digital video cameras, also known as webcams, the concept of the videophone is making a comeback, albeit in a slightly different form. Using many voice over IP (VoIP) technologies, users can speak to friends or clients while using their webcam. The idea is essentially the same as that of a videophone, except that instead of being an integrated hardware package running over existing phone networks, the technology interfaces with an existing computer and Internet network.

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Discussion Comments
By anon11581 — On Apr 19, 2008

We recently replaced our home phone with a Videophone. We can now see & talk to my brother in Dallas and my parents in Montreal. This is especially great for my parents to be able to see their grandchildren. I hope this technology is here to stay.

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