(June 15, 2010) Updated and corrections 6/17

Connected HDTVs offer a built-in wired or wireless connection to your home Internet router. The Internet connection enables multimedia applications such as movie streaming (i.e. Amazon), Twitter, news, sports and weather to be streamed to your HDTV without a computer.  Over the past year we’ve tried a number of these applications and have been generally unimpressed with either the content or their advantage over discs, cable and satellite (on demand) until today. Enter the Skype Video equipped Panasonic TC-P50VT25.

For those unfamiliar with it, Skype Video is a software application once only available on computers that’s now built into select Panasonic and Samsung HDTVs that lets you make free video calls over the Internet to anyone with a Skype software equipped computer,  TV or  Skype freestanding video phone. Of course users at both ends must have both video cameras and microphones associated with their computers and/or TVs.

The Panasonic system, consisting of video camera model TY-CC10W and in the case of this review, the TC-P50VT25 plasma TV, allows you to converse using a 50″ screen instead of a small laptop image, allowing the entire family to participate.

The camera, which clips onto the top of the set, contains four unidirectional microphones and a 1/4-inch CMOS sensor with 1280 x 720 resolution. The lens is autofocus, with an F/2.0 aperture and a field of view of 58° (in HD mode).

Set-up and Performance

Panasonic calls its internet applications “Viera Cast”. Skype (video with voice or just voice) requires an Internet connection via an Ethernet cable or a Panasonic wireless adapter (DY-WL10).

The camera interfaces with the TV via a USB cable plugged into one of the two available USB jacks located on the side of the set.  Once connected, you hit the remote control’s Viera Cast hot button, choose the Skype application via the on-screen graphic and activate your previously set up Skype account. The Panasonic TV is now ready to make free video calls to any Skype internet connected device in the world (note: both you and the person to whom you intend to speak must have their Skype devices powered on before placing the call).

We tested video and voice performance by making Skype video calls from our New York location to California, New Jersey, Norway and Thailand. The picture quality ranged from acceptable to excellent. Skype picture quality depends upon three variables: the speed of your internet connection (we use Verizon FIOS), the internet connection speed of the party you are calling, and the way Skype routes your video call over the internet (a pathway you cannot control). Once the call is made you will see the party you are calling as well as a picture outside the picture of the image from your camera (in the lower corner) and a signal quality meter.

Skype video norway 425

Skype HD Video  425

The meter’s range is one to four bars. We obtained two to four in our tests, providing fair to acceptable quality at two bars with a 4×3 image. If the person you are calling has a wide screen HD camera, the image expands to 16:9 but only if you connect at four bars signal strength, which we were able to observe during a call to Panasonic’s US headquarters in New Jersey. The image from Norway (see top photo) was very good at three bars and no doubt limited in resolution by the standard def camera used on the other end.  The wide screen HD (bottom photo) was taken during an video call to Skype’s NY PR office with Techlicious’ Editor Suzanne Kantra (lower left). Overall we were very satisfied with the video and audio quality.

The Panasonic TY-CC10W camera permits electronic zoom and panning. However, this currently must be preset, as you cannot change the settings during a video call. A Panasonic spokesman said this feature maybe accessible during a video call via a future firmware update.

The frame rate can be 22 to 30 frames per second, depending on the speed of the connection. Skype incorporates a type of frame smoothing that makes the picture far less herky-jerky than earlier video phones. The resolution goes from around VHS quality with a poor one bar signal up to 720p widescreen with a full four bars signal.

Our only complaint was with the volume control, which maxes out at 28, just above a minimum acceptable level, which could present a problem in large rooms or environments with high ambient noise levels. The restricted volume is at a much lower level than what the TC-P50VT25 is capable of delivering with normal TV content. According to Merwan Mereby, Panasonic VP of Corporate Development, the volume restriction is imposed by Skype in its design mandates.  Mereby added they are looking into ways to work with Skype to permit an increase of the maximum volume.

Video phones have been around for decades, but they’ve never caught on. Panasonic’s incorporation of Skype video, which provides the ability to see high quality, life sized moving images of distant family or friends for free, is a very compelling reason to consider an HDTV with this feature. I believe the application will finally allow video calls to really catch on, which makes this the killer app. Just make sure you’re dressed before dialing (depending upon whom you’re dialing!)

Note: The [amazonify]B003LYO3LE::text::::Panasonic Skype HD Camera[/amazonify] ($169.95 retail) is available free via mail-in rebate (link) until July 10, 2010 with the purchase of one of its G20 or G25 series plasma HDTVs.

The following Panasonic models have Skype Video capability

[amazonify]B003924UBG::text::::TC-P42G25[/amazonify],[amazonify]B00392146A::text::::TC-P46G25[/amazonify],[amazonify]B003924UCK::text::::TC-P50G25[/amazonify],[amazonify]B00392147E::text::::TC-P54G25[/amazonify],[amazonify]B003NA1AGM::text::::TC-P50VT25[/amazonify],[amazonify]B003NA1JK4::text::::TC-P54VT25[/amazonify],[amazonify]B003N3BV5O::text::::TC-P58VT25[/amazonify],[amazonify]B003N3BV90::text::::TC-P65VT25[/amazonify], TC-P50G20, TC-P54G20 and TC-P50VT20

The Samsung Skype camera is the called the [amazonify]B003K05V2E::text::::Freetalk[/amazonify]. The following Samsung models have Skype Video capability

[amazonify]B0036WT4EC::text::::UN46C7000[/amazonify],[amazonify]B0036WT4DS::text::::UN46C6800[/amazonify],[amazonify]B0036WT4AG::text::::UN40C7000[/amazonify],[amazonify]B0036WT4EC::text::::UN46C7000[/amazonify],[amazonify]B0036WT4JW::text::::UN55C7000[/amazonify],[amazonify]B0036WT4EW::text::::UN46C8000[/amazonify] and [amazonify]B0036WT4KG::text::::UN55C8000[/amazonify]

You must use the camera designed for a particular brand HDTV. They will not work with other makes.

Edited By Michael Fremer

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