If You Build It, They Will Video Phone

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Monday December 19, 2011 – Stewart Wolpin

In the future, all TVs…

RING! RING!

Oh, could you hold on a second? My TV is ringing.

As I was saying (sorry, it was someone taking an opinion poll), in the future, all TVs will be equipped with Web cams and microphones and will become our major home telecommunications device. I’m no Nostradamus, Criswell or even Punxsutawney Phil, nor do I have to be. It’s going to happen.

What, you, say? It’s already happening? No, not really. Yes, LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and Vizio all sell HDTVs to which you can attach a separate Webcam/microphone/processor array to turn the TV into a phone.

But asking consumers to buy a $2,000-plus TV PLUS another $150-$300 to buy an attachment box is an incredibly dumb way to move us to the video phone future.

What gnaws at me like the waste of unrealized potential is that these same TV makers have the answer right in front of them – build the damn Web cam and its processing guts into the bezel.

Will this make the TV more expensive? Yup. So you do what gadget makers have done for decades: you build this slightly expensive new feature into the top-of-the-line models. Then, as time goes on and people start buying them, economies of scale let you start building it into increasingly less expensive HDTVs.

This isn’t rocket science nor is it news. HDTV execs I’ve spoken to know building a webcam into the TV is the right thing to do. They’ve seen what happened in the PC business – a few desktop PCs had built-in Web cams, then a few more, then a few laptops had ’em… Now ALL desktops and laptops have built in Web cams and mics, and when they built it, we came, and lots of other capabilities became possible.

HDTV makers are setting themselves up for a crash. As we’re all sitting here, a certain fruit-named company is readying an HDTV that sure as shucks will have a built-in video telephony capabilities that can communicate with millions of the single most popular smartphone on the planet and the single most popular tablet on the planet. Maybe this fruity company’s HDTV with a built-in Web cam (and who knows what else) will carry a premium price and therefore won’t pose real competition in the HDTV space – but this kind of willful blindness has been the ruin of many of the cocky who have gone before.

I hope I see some HDTV makers with webcam-equipped sets at CES, I really do. It’ll be good for them to gird them against the PC-like smart HDTV coming (and so their boob tube wares don’t look so archaic when it does), and good for those of us who’d like to answer the phone with our TV remote control. I hope I will, but I doubt I will.

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