When we use Skype, Apple FaceTime, 3G mobile telephony or similar services for a video conversation where we see the other caller, this concept was brought to fruition 50 years ago courtesy of Bell Telephone.
Here, a public “proof-of-concept” setup was established between the site of the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows in New York City and Disneyland in Los Angeles. People who wanted to try this concept sat in special phone booths where they talked in to a box with a small TV screen and camera as well as the speaker and microphone. They were able to see their correspondent as a 30-frames-per-second black-and-white TV image on this device and many people had a chance to give it a go for the duration of that World’s Fair.
Bell had a stab at marketing the “Picturephone” concept in different forms but the cost to purchase and use was prohibitive for most people and it got to a point where it could have limited corporate / government videoconferencing appeal. As well, a lot of science-fiction movies and TV shows written in the 1960s and 1970s, most notably “2001 A Space Odyssey” sustained the “Picturephone” and video telephony as something look forward to in the future along with space travel for everyone. For me, that scene in “2001 A Space Odyssey” with Dr. Heywood Floyd talking to his daughter on the public videophone at the space station stood out in my mind as what it was all about.
But as the IP technology that bears the Internet made it cheaper to use Skype and FaceTime, there are some of us who still find it difficult to make eye-contact with the correspondent due to having to know where the camera is on each side of the call.
In essence, the Bell public demonstration certainly has proven the concept from fiction to reality by allowing people to try it as part of a “world expo”.
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