TelyHD not only sets a new low price point for implementing Skype for TV; it offers excellent quality call performance and, with its Android foundation, has the potential to become a major platform for other TV-appropriate applications.
As mentioned in my review of Skype for TV at CES 2012, Tely Labs was giving the first demonstrations of its TelyHD platform for Skype video calling in both the Skype and NVIDIA booths. Last week I received an evaluation unit and have been able to test it out under various conditions. Suffice it to say that while it delivers an excellent video calling experience, there are also social issues that arise when making Skype calls from the family room or living room.
- embeds a wide-angle HD webcam supporting 720p resolution @ 30 frames per second (“fps”), with a privacy shutter
- includes four noise cancelling microphones that take advantage of Skype’s “beam forming” audio feature
- requires an HDTV set with an HDMI input
- incorporates a remote control for managing the Skype calling experience from across the room
- make calls to Skype contacts on PC’s, iOS/Android devices, Skype for TV and other TelyHD’s
- shares photos on calls to other TelyHD contacts
- runs on firmware built on the Android operating system
- opens up opportunities to take it from simply a Skype application to becoming a “tablet” for the TV screen
- firmware is automatically checked daily for an upgrade at a preset time
- includes an onboard H.264 processor to reduce the video codec processing load on the main Tegra 2 Dual-Core ARM A9 processor from NVIDIA
- connects to the Internet via either WiFi or an Ethernet cable
- includes a USB port for a wired/wireless keyboard and/or USB memory stick for photosharing
- has a SD card reader for photo sharing
TelyHD Platform Hardware
In this VodBurner Skype video call recording Chris Loeper, Tely Labs’ Vice-President for Worldwide Sales and Business Development, gives a tour of the platform and its features:
Of course the first step is to have it grip firmly onto the top frame of a HDTV panel. The TelyHD has a rather unique patent-pending mount mechanism that allows its holder to adjust to any width of the panel and to any angle required to deal with protrusions of the back panel from the frame – as was my case shown here. It will hold firmly with any top frame/back panel configuration. (As an alternative placement, independent of the TV set, the base also includes a tripod mount.)
Moving on to my experience with the TelyHD in conjunction with a six-year-old Sony Bravia HDTV and a Pioneer Audio/Video Receiver, once mounted I simply plugged the HDMI port to an HDMI input port on the receiver, connected the power adapter and turned on the TV and Receiver. I have an Internet connection with 2 Mbps upload specification that performs at 1.6 to 1.9 Mbps using Tely Labs’ speed test, well above the 1.0 Mbps minimum upload speed required for 720p video; I elected to connect to the Internet via WiFi.
Very quickly it launched the start-up wizard that walks through the webcam setup and picture size adjustment, network connection (with WiFi logon, if desired) and time zone setting. At that point the Sign In screen comes up where you can sign into a Skype account (or set up new Skype account). I was logged in within the seven minutes mentioned on the start-up wizard page on the Tely Labs website; family members in the room at the time commented on how quickly and easily it was set up.
All the activity is controlled through a seven button remote control – five-way for navigation and a Menu and End Call button. While there is an on-screen keyboard when necessary, I found a $25 Logitech k360 wireless keyboard that makes text entry much easier. When you use set up and make calls you can optionally turn on Tool Tips which show how the remote can be used in various screens, including video call displays.
Once logged in, operation starts from the Contacts Screen (see below). Pressing the menu button gives you access to six actions as shown below. Hitting the menu button again removes the menu to select a Contact for a call.
Select a contact and launch a call from the centre button of the control; the call will ring. On answering you will see the other party’s video along with a message “improving image” at the left of the status bar across the screen bottom while a connection of appropriate resolution (corresponding to the capabilities of the other party’s webcam and Internet connection) is negotiated. Pressing the menu button brings up several options for managing the call as shown below:
There are three screen layout options; press the Screen Layout icon three times to cycle through them. During a call you can zoom, pan and tilt the webcam image via the remote control.
Below are a few images representative of my calling experience – click on an image for a larger view:
The Calling Experience
I have made several calls – a 25 minute call to a relative on an Acer notebook with built-in webcam; several 15 to 45 minute calls to Tely Labs where I also had a demonstration of the photo sharing that requires TelyHD on both ends of the call. A call with Skype for iPhone worked but was limited to Skype for iPhone’s inherent 160 x 120 resolution. And, of course, doing a VodBurner video recording between a TelyHD and a Skype for Windows client, as shown above, confirms the ability of the TelyHD to make calls to a Skype client on any platform supported by Skype as well as its 720p HD performance. All calls invoke Skype’s SILK technology that delivers crystal clear audio.
If both parties have Tely HD
- As the first indication of how they leverage the Android platform, the initial firmware allows you to share photos on an SD card or USB stick provided both parties have a TelyHD. In fact, if the receiving party has plugged in one of these memory cards, they can download the photo at their end. But, according to my discussions with Chris Loeper, Tely Labs’ Vice-President Worldwide Sales and Business Development, (who is shown in a couple of the images above), we can expect to see many additional applications, based on both their own intuition and user feedback. The major issue determining the applications invoked will be its appropriateness for use on a TV display in a multi-person environment.
- You can always leave a voice mail with any Skype contact for an unanswered call. However, if the other party has TelyHD you can leave a video mail. If a call is not answered you are given an opportunity to leave a message. Or you can “flip” a contact card where you will find a menu across the bottom’ click on the right most message icon and you get the message on the right (Chris has a TelyHD so the caller gets both the video and voice option).
In order to facilitate switching between normal TV broadcast viewing and Skype calling I have programmed my Harmony remote control to make switching a single click operation. While the Harmony currently does not support emulation of the TelyHD remote, Tely Labs is working with Logitech’s Harmony division to address this. Simply having the ability to switch between the two with a single click, however, is a significant convenience.
As hinted above, the social issue revolving around the use of Skype for TV is that, unlike a “personal” computer used by an individual, a TV set is usually shared in a family room, living room or a business meeting room where consensus must build around what programming or application the set is being used to view. At some point Tely Labs hopes to introduce a feature to allow television program viewing during a Skype call. In addition there will be the usual “how-do-I-appear” self-conscious considerations and whether one wants to be seen in a larger room environment with whatever condition of the room there may be. The privacy shutter over the webcam’s lens or “Video On/Off” button in the call management menu can address these issues while maintaining a voice connection.
However, Tely Labs is not simply targeting the consumer market; they are also targeting business sectors that can take advantage of making Skype calls in, say, a conference room, without the need for a PC. Recently they signed a partnership with TVR Communications to add in-room video calling to its patient interactive services across their hospital customer base. From the press release:
Designed to allow consumers to experience free Skype video calling with the bonus of big-screen impact and high-definition clarity, telyHD brings the experience of how people connect and communicate to a new level. Unlike traditional computer-based web cameras, telyHD is designed to accommodate entire rooms, with a wide-angle camera that zooms, pans and tilts to capture a room and all its participants. In hospital rooms, telyHD gives patients the ability to connect face-to-face with family and friends worldwide — in an easy, natural and more social way. Anyone on Skype can receive the telyHD video call, whether using Skype on a computer, tablet or smartphone, and can enjoy the improved telyHD video regardless of whether they have their own telyHD system.
Currently TelyHD does not participate in Skype Group Video calls; this is a capability that will eventually be added through a future firmware upgrade.
Requirements: HD TV set with HDMI input; Internet upload speed minimum 512Kbps for VGA resolution, 1Mbps for 720p HD resolution. Optional: wireless or wired USB keyboard; USB memory stick or SD card for photo sharing (with other TelyHD users).
Bottom line: TelyHD certainly delivers excellent quality HD video and takes advantage of Skype’s SILK and multi-microphone beam forming technology to incorporate crystal clear audio. It’s a prime example of using SkypeKit to develop third party offerings. At $250 It sets a new baseline cost for using Skype for TV – with any HDTV using a HDMI connection.
However, Skype and photo sharing are only the first of several Android-based applications that will be offered through firmware upgrades. Better to think of TelyHD’s potential as an Android tablet using HDTV’s for the display. If Apple’s rumored iTV ever comes out as an iOS-powered tablet for HDTV’s, TelyHD has the video and audio foundation to provide the Android alternative.
Check out the video at Walt Mossberg’s review on All Things D: Real Bonding With Family Around the TV Via Skype.
Update: Check Out the third product reviewed in this New York Times article: Digital Devices for Luddites.