At the dawn of the technology, videotelephony also included image phones which would exchange still images between units every few seconds over conventional POTS-type telephone lines, essentially the same as slow scan TV systems.
Currently videotelephony usage has made significant inroads in government, healthcare, education and the news media. It is particularly useful to the deaf and speech-impaired who can use the technology with sign language and also with a video relay service, and well as to those with mobility issues or those who are located in distant places and are in need of telemedical or tele-educational services. It is also used in commercial and corporate settings to facilitate meetings and conferences, typically between parties that already have established relationships. Like all long distance communications technologies (such as phone and internet), by reducing the need to travel to bring people together the technology also contributes to reductions in carbon emissions, thereby helping to reduce global warming.
The concept of videotelephony was first popularized in the late 1870s in both the United States and Europe, although the basic sciences to permit its very earliest trials would take nearly a half century to be discovered. This was first embodied in the device which came to be known as the video telephone, or videophone, and it evolved from intensive research and experimentation in several telecommunication fields, notably electrical telegraphy, telephony, radio, and television.
The development of the crucial video technology first started in the latter half of the 1920s in the United Kingdom and the United States, spurred notably by John Logie Baird and AT&T's Bell Labs. This occurred in part, at least with AT&T, to serve as an adjunct supplementing the use of the telephone. A number of organizations believed that videotelephony would be superior to plain voice communications. However video technology was to be deployed in analog television broadcasting long before it could become practical—or popular—for videophones.
Videotelephony developed in parallel with conventional voice telephone systems from the mid-to-late 20th century. Very expensive videoconferencing systems rapidly evolved throughout the 1980s and 1990s from proprietary equipment, software and network requirements to standards-based technologies that were readily available to the general public at a reasonable cost. Only in the late 20th century with the advent of powerful video codecs combined with high-speed Internet broadband and ISDN service did videotelephony become a practical technology for regular use.
With the rapid improvements and popularity of the Internet, videotelephony has become widespread through the deployment of video-enabled mobile phones, plus videoconferencing and computer webcams which utilize Internet telephony. In the upper echelons of government, business and commerce, telepresence technology, an advanced form of videoconferencing, has helped reduce the need to travel.
The highest ever videocall took place on May 19, 2013 when British adventurer Daniel Hughes used a smartphone with a BGAN satellite modem to make a videocall to the BBC from the summit of Mount Everest, at 8,848 m above sea level.
Videotelephony can be categorized by its functionality, that is to its intended purpose, and also by its method of transmissions.
Videophones were the earliest form of videotelephony, dating back to initial tests in 1927 by AT&T. During the late 1930s the post offices of several European governments established public videophone services for person-to-person communications utilizing dual cable circuit telephone transmission technology. In the present day standalone videophones and UMTS video-enabled mobile phones are usually used on a person-to-person basis.
Videoconferencing saw its earliest use with AT&T's Picturephone service in the early 1970s. Transmissions were analog over short distances, but converted to digital forms for longer calls, again using telephone transmission technology. Popular corporate videoconferencing systems in the present day have migrated almost exclusively to digital ISDN and IP transmission modes due to the need to convey the very large amounts of data generated by their cameras and microphones. These systems are often intended for use in conference mode, that is by many people in several different locations, all of whom can be viewed by every participant at each location.
Telepresence systems are a newer, more advanced subset of videoconferencing systems, meant to allow higher degrees of video and audio fidelity. Such high end systems are typically deployed in corporate settings.
Mobile collaboration systems are another recent development, combining the use of video, audio, and on-screen drawing capabilities using newest generation hand-held electronic devices broadcasting over secure networks, enabling multi-party conferencing in real-time, independent of location.
A more recent technology encompassing these functions is TV cams. TV cams enable people to make video “phone” calls using video calling services, like Skype on their TV, without using a PC connection. TV cams are specially designed video cameras that feed images in real time to another TV camera or other compatible computing devices like smartphones, tablets and computers.
Categories by cost and quality of service
From the least to the most expensive systems:
- Web camera videophone and videoconferencing systems that serve as compliments to personal computers, connected to other participants by computer and VoIP networks – lowest direct cost assuming the users already possess computers at their respective locations. Quality of service can range from low to very high, including high definition video available on the latest model webcams. A related and similar device is a TV camera which is usually small, sits on top of a TV and can connect to it via its HDMI port, similar to how a webcam attaches to a computer via a USB port.
- Videophones – low to midrange cost. The earliest standalone models operated over either plain POTS telephone lines on the PSTN telephone networks or more expensive ISDN lines, while newer models have largely migrated to Internet protocol line service for higher image resolutions and sound quality. Quality of service for standalone videophones can vary from low to high;
- Videoconferencing systems – midrange cost, usually utilizing multipoint control units or other bridging services to allow multiple parties on a videoconference calls. Quality of service can vary from moderate to high;
- Telepresence systems – highest capabilities and highest cost. Full high-end systems can involve specially built teleconference rooms to allow expansive views with very high levels of audio and video fidelity, to permit an 'immersive' videoconference. When the proper type and capacity transmission lines are provided between facilities, the quality of service reaches state-of-the-art levels.
Use in sign language communications
One of the first demonstrations of the ability for telecommunications to help sign language users communicate with each other occurred when AT&T's videophone (trademarked as the "Picturephone") was introduced to the public at the 1964 New York World's Fair –two deaf users were able to communicate freely with each other between the fair and another city. Various universities and other organizations, including British Telecom's Martlesham facility, have also conducted extensive research on signing via videotelephony.
The use of sign language via videotelephony was hampered for many years due to the difficulty of its use over slow analogue copper phone lines, coupled with the high cost of better quality ISDN (data) phone lines. Those factors largely disappeared with the introduction of more efficient and powerful video codecs and the advent of lower cost high-speed ISDN data and IP (Internet) services in the 1990s.
21st century improvements
Significant improvements in video call quality of service for the deaf occurred in the United States in 2003 when Sorenson Media Inc. (formerly Sorenson Vision Inc.), a video compression software coding company, developed its VP-100 model stand-alone videophone specifically for the deaf community. It was designed to output its video to the user's television in order to lower the cost of acquisition, and to offer remote control and a powerful video compression codec for unequaled video quality and ease of use with video relay services. Favourable reviews quickly led to its popular usage at educational facilities for the deaf, and from there to the greater deaf community.
Coupled with similar high-quality videophones introduced by other electronics manufacturers, the availability of high speed Internet, and sponsored video relay services authorized by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in 2002, VRS services for the deaf underwent rapid growth in that country.
Present day usage
Using such video equipment in the present day, the deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired can communicate between themselves and with hearing individuals using sign language. The United States and several other countries compensate companies to provide "Video Relay Services" (VRS). Telecommunication equipment can be used to talk to others via a sign language interpreter, who uses a conventional telephone at the same time to communicate with the deaf person's party. Video equipment is also used to do on-site sign language translation via Video Remote Interpreting (VRI). The relative low cost and widespread availability of 3G mobile phone technology with video calling capabilities have given deaf and speech-impaired users a greater ability to communicate with the same ease as others. Some wireless operators have even started free sign language gateways.
Sign language interpretation services via VRS or by VRI are useful in the present-day where one of the parties is deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired (mute). In such cases the interpretation flow is normally within the same principal language, such as French Sign Language (LSF) to spoken French, Spanish Sign Language (LSE) to spoken Spanish, British Sign Language (BSL) to spoken English, and American Sign Language (ASL) also to spoken English (since BSL and ASL are completely distinct to each other), and so on.
Multilingual sign language interpreters, who can also translate as well across principal languages (such as to and from SSL, to and from spoken English), are also available, albeit less frequently. Such activities involve considerable effort on the part of the translator, since sign languages are distinct natural languages with their own construction, semantics and syntax, different from the aural version of the same principal language.
With video interpreting, sign language interpreters work remotely with live video and audio feeds, so that the interpreter can see the deaf or mute party, and converse with the hearing party, and vice versa. Much like telephone interpreting, video interpreting can be used for situations in which no on-site interpreters are available. However, video interpreting cannot be used for situations in which all parties are speaking via telephone alone. VRS and VRI interpretation requires all parties to have the necessary equipment. Some advanced equipment enables interpreters to control the video camera remotely, in order to zoom in and out or to point the camera toward the party that is signing.
Descriptive names and terminology
The name 'videophone' never became as standardized as its earlier counterpart 'telephone', resulting in a variety of names and terms being used worldwide, and even within the same region or country. Videophones are also known as 'video phones', 'videotelephones' (or 'video telephones') and often by an early trademarked name Picturephone, which was the world's first commercial videophone produced in volume. The compound name 'videophone' slowly entered into general use after 1950, although 'video telephone' likely entered the lexicon earlier after video was coined in 1935.
Videophone calls (also: videocalls, video chat as well as Skype and Skyping in verb form), differ from videoconferencing in that they expect to serve individuals, not groups. However that distinction has become increasingly blurred with technology improvements such as increased bandwidth and sophisticated software clients that can allow for multiple parties on a call. In general everyday usage the term videoconferencing is now frequently used instead of videocall for point-to-point calls between two units. Both videophone calls and videoconferencing are also now commonly referred to as a video link.
Webcams are popular, relatively low cost devices which can provide live video and audio streams via personal computers, and can be used with many software clients for both video calls and videoconferencing.
A videoconference system is generally higher cost than a videophone and deploys greater capabilities. A videoconference (also known as a videoteleconference) allows two or more locations to communicate via live, simultaneous two-way video and audio transmissions. This is often accomplished by the use of a multipoint control unit (a centralized distribution and call management system) or by a similar non-centralized multipoint capability embedded in each videoconferencing unit. Again, technology improvements have circumvented traditional definitions by allowing multiple party videoconferencing via web-based applications. A separate webpage article is devoted to videoconferencing.
A telepresence system is a high-end videoconferencing system and service usually employed by enterprise-level corporate offices. Telepresence conference rooms use state-of-the art room designs, video cameras, displays, sound-systems and processors, coupled with high-to-very-high capacity bandwidth transmissions.
Typical use of the various technologies described above include calling or conferencing on a one-on-one, one-to-many or many-to-many basis for personal, business, educational, deaf Video Relay Service and tele-medical, diagnostic and rehabilitative use or services. New services utilizing videocalling and videoconferencing, such as teachers and psychologists conducting online sessions, personal videocalls to inmates incarcerated in penitentiaries, and videoconferencing to resolve airline engineering issues at maintenance facilities, are being created or evolving on an on-going basis.
Other names for videophone that have been used in English are: Viewphone (the British Telecom equivalent to AT&T's Picturephone), and visiophone, a common French translation that has also crept into limited English usage, as well as over twenty less common names and expressions. Latin-based translations of videophone in other languages include vidéophone (French), Bildtelefon (German), videotelefono (Italian), both videófono and videoteléfono (Spanish), both beeldtelefoon and videofoon (Dutch), and videofonía (Catalan).
A telepresence robot (also telerobotics) is a robotically controlled and motorized video conferencing display to help give a better sense of remote physical presence for communication and collaboration in an office, home, school, etc. when one cannot be there in person. The robotic avatar device can move about and look around at the command of the remote person it represents.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Videotelephony.|
- List of video telecommunication services and product brands
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