Comcast Bringing Skype Messaging, Video Calling to TVs

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The entertainment industry’s been pretty lethargic about bringing big-screen, high-definition video calling to living rooms en masse. It’s been left to video game hardware manufacturers via set-top boxes to do the job, be they video chats with up to six people using Sony’s PlayStation 3, or Video Kinect using Microsoft’s motion-sensing Xbox 360 camera.

No more. It looks like Comcast’s hopping aboard the train pronto, partnering with Microsoft-owned Skype to bring video calling to HDTVs everywhere.

Yep, I said HDTVs, or at least VentureBeat did. Sorry standard definition TV holdouts. You’ll need a high-def screen, a special Comcast set-top box, a “high quality” video camera (probably not a cheap one) and—maddeningly—a “specially designed” standalone remote, in case you want to tap out text dictums in lieu of jibber-jabbering face-to-face. No, you won’t need two Comcast boxes to talk, and Comcast says it’ll work just fine with all non-Comcast Skype devices.

Why would anyone in their right mind use Skype’s instant messaging capabilities on a television screen? Beats me, unless we’re talking to preempt a full-on video call, or you know, if you enjoy being visibly interrupted with a “CallerID” feature while watching a show. Also: you’ll have the option to call in or out Skype-to-Skype, but phone numbers won’t pass, as Comcast has its own phone service to protect (aren’t half-measures great)?

Comcast says it expects customer trials to begin “in the coming months,” but mentions nothing about pricing. One thing Skype for Comcast HDTVs almost surely won’t be, with those extra peripherals in the mix, is free.