While I generally go out of my way to avoid mentally revisiting lockdown or invoking memories of it for readers, there’s one current TV trend that keeps giving me flashbacks; video calling.
Just as everyone else did, my family and I embraced the video call when lockdown began, but FaceTiming via iPhone and iPad quickly became frustratingly small-scale and weirdly impersonal. It was that first lockdown Christmas that inspired us to seek something more involving; something that would make it feel more like a family get-together. We figured that if we could do video calls through the TV it would make it feel a bit more as if we were in the same room and we’d even be able to indulge in the family tradition of playing a game of Trivial Pursuit (and falling out a little bit).
The problem was that options were few and far between at the time, which is funny, really, because there was a time when TVs from the likes of Samsung and LG had cameras built right into the chassis but that phase passed quickly because, it turned out, no-one was really interested in video calling from their TV. Yep, cameras in TVs were ahead of their time.
So we ended up buying three Portal TVs – the Xbox Kinect-style video cameras that you clipped awkwardly to the top of your TV and hooked up via HDMI – and, let me tell you, they were atrocious. Don’t get me wrong, we did manage a number of games of Trivial Pursuit and, when working, the experience was far more enjoyable than FaceTime, but we had to endure at least half an hour of connection issues practically every time we wanted to dial in and on several occasions we were forced to give up and switch back to our phones and tablets.
Even so, video calling through TV was invaluable to my family through the pandemic, particularly because one family member’s underlying health conditions meant that they had to isolate long after lockdown had ended.
Finally, though, in-person family get-togethers became an option and video calling became more occasional, and that meant we could ditch the awful Portal TVs and make do with the far easier FaceTimes between real-life visits. In 2023, our reliance on video calling has become largely memory.
And it’s in this context that the tech industry is finally offering proper video calling via TV (again).
Sony has its own Bravia CAM, which comes with its flagship TVs such as the A95L and is an optional extra for most of its range; the Sky Live camera accessory for Sky Glass leads with its Zoom compatibility (though admittedly offers a fair bit besides); and, thanks to its most recent update, you can now FaceTime through the Apple TV 4K by using your iPhone as the camera. Those are just the most obvious pushes for video calling via TV – there are also lots of TV brands, such as LG, who support Zoom calls if you connect a webcam to one of the USB sockets of their TVs.
But is anyone still interested?
I don’t want to impose my situation upon everyone else, and we all have our own individual family dynamics and channels of communication, but I was a video-call-via-TV evangelist once and even I’m not interested in it now. I’m sure there are people who for various reasons still rely heavily on video calling and will appreciate being able to do so more easily via a TV, just as we did through the pandemic, but we’re undeniably in niche territory now and I can’t help but feel a bit bitter that this technological push has come too late for the period when it would have been seriously useful.
The irony, of course, would be a lack of interest in the technology now leading to it no longer being available the next time we do actually need it – but let’s not think about that too much.
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