delivering on the 20th century’s PicturePhone promise by
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
October 24-30, 2006; issue 887
Back in 1964, my family visited the New York
World’s Fair. Along
with the futuristic Unisphere, the high-tech hit of the fair was the
Bell System’s PicturePhone. Yes, dial a number and get pictures
and voice at the same time.
The PicturePhone didn’t find wide popular acceptance, however.
Perhaps few home users wanted to get a call on one as they were just
stepping out of the shower.
Fast forward 40 years or so, and the concept’s back again in a
wide range of variations, now using computers and the Internet. Usage
can range from corporate video conferencing to video phoning over Skype
to teenagers adding a webcam to their instant messaging. A computer
plus a webcam can act as a remotely accessible security camera in a
shop, office or home.
There are lots of low and mid-priced webcams.
Live! Motion (about $170) adds some unique features. Smart
Face-Tracking allows the camera to smoothly pan and tilt to keep your
face in the centre of the screen as you move horizontally and
vertically. Its 200-degree horizontal view provides a wider angle of
coverage than do most competitors.
The Live! Motion works with most instant messenger services and can be
monitored using a mobile phone or PDA. The camera’s base can be
mounted on a flat surface or on the edge of an LCD or notebook screen.
Other Creative webcams include the miniature Live! Cam Notebook Pro
($70) and the Live! Cam Voice ($135), which adds a set of
noise-cancelling microphones, handy for use in noisy homes or offices,
while taking 1.3 megapixel videos and 5.0 megapixel stills.
to the webcam market, but its LifeCam VX-6000 ($130) is packed with
features. Like Creative’s similarly priced (and similarly named!)
Live! Cam Voice, it includes a noise-cancelling microphone.
Microsoft’s LifeCam also includes a 3x digital zoom and software
focusing on integration with Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger
service. For instance, one press of a button on top of the camera pops
up Live Messenger’s Buddy Picker window, showing which of your
contacts are currently online.
Like Creative’s Live! Motion series, the LifeCam features
automatic face tracking, though the camera displays only 71 horizontal
Not to be left out of the webcam party, Apple has gone one step further.
While continuing to sell its iSight add-on video camera, the latest
generations of its iMac desktops and Mac Book and Mac Book Pro
notebooks all include a miniaturized version of the camera built into
the top edge of the screen. The included iChat AV software can be used
to video chat with up to three other Mac owners or to stay in touch
with Windows users over the AOL Messenger network.
Of course, none of these are really phones. Blackberry has successfully merged
mobile phone with always-accessible e-mail.
Its new Pearl 8100 ($249 with Rogers plan) adds to Blackberry’s
business features digital camera, multimedia capabilities and
expandable memory, making it both a smart and fun phone.
Like the company’s recent business-oriented 7130g, it works with
Rogers’ high-speed Edge network and includes Sure Type software,
making it possible to mimic a standard QWERTY keyboard using only 20
It won’t work as a video-phone, but its 1.3 megapixel still
camera, complete with digital zoom and flash; bright 240x260 pixel
display; built-in music and video player; voice-dialling; and sleek
design make it the first Blackberry to take off its tie and get down.