We've had the ability to hold video chats over our computer for many years, but there hasn't been much improvement beyond improving the quality of Webcams or expanding the idea beyond the computer. We've seen some attempts to bring videoconferencing into the living room via the TV screen, but the units have been too expensive or difficult to use or set up.
The TelyHD unit from Tely Labs solves many of these problems. The TelyHD device is an Android-based platform with hardware based on the Tegra2 dual-core ARM 9 processor from NVIDIA. With each core running at 1GHz, this gives the unit to produce 720p HD video and audio. Sitting on top of a HD TV, the unit connects via HDMI (the system comes with a cable) and connects to your home network router via Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. The software then integrates with Skype to let you make free video calls to any other Skype member, or you can make voice calls to any telephone number via Skype Credits.
When using your HDTV as a monitor for making a call (as opposed to your smaller laptop screen or on a smaller monitor), the camera provides a wider angle for calls - instead of three or four people crowding around a tiny monitor to be within range of a laptop's Webcam, you can all sit on the couch comfortably when making a call. The unit does provide some pan/tilt/zoom features as well, if you want to get closer to a subject during a call. Voice volume comes through the speakers on your TV set as opposed to tiny speakers. The unit contains four noise-canceling microphones that can pick up audio better when multiple people are all talking.
The design of the unit is quite nice - it reminds me of an Xbox Kinect camera in its shape and size. The unit comes with a bracket that is easily adjustable to fit onto the back of any TV, no screws or installation is needed. Configuration is handled through the included remote control, including signing in to an existing Skype account (recommended) or setting a new one up.
In addition to making Skype calls, the unit comes equipped with a Web browser that you can view via the TV - you can download a free iOS or Android app to provide a rudimentary mouse/keyboard for this option - it's not the best app, but can work if you quickly need to check something on the Web (although it's probably quicker to use your smartphone's browser).
Ideally you'll want to buy two units - one for yourself and one for the person who you want to have regular video chats with. While you can call anyone with this, if the person is on their Webcam/computer/smartphone and you're on the TV, they'll see a great picture and you'll see whatever device they're using. Also, having good broadband on both sides (I tested mine with a very nice FiOS network with great upload bandwidth) will create a better experience.
At $250 for one unit, the price may turn off some people, especially if they're looking to buy two units - but at the moment I can't think of a better way to have a videoconference between a family and a far-away grandparent (or other relative) that produces such good quality video and audio.
- Keith Shaw
With large-screen TVs donning every other living room it seems, the age-old projector is a thing of the past. But ViewSonic has created a projector that could bring back memories of the days when your family would sit together watching films - albeit not the old, grainy reels from the 1950s, but modern movies with high-definition resolution.
The PLED-W200 LED projector is about the size of a paperback book, so this also makes for a great projector for road warriors who need to make a boardroom presentation. All you need is a laptop to show a PowerPoint presentation or play a DVD or you can also show off your latest photos or videos you might have on a CD - just be careful not to mix up those vacation photos when on your business meeting.
The biggest obstacle for me was thinking that I needed to install software from ViewSonic in order to connect the projector to my computer. After figuring this out, it's a quick matter of plugging in the AC power cord, connecting to the computer via the included multi-input cable, and getting the popcorn ready. The unit does come with cables that let you hook up to external speakers, but for the most part we found that laptop speakers provide adequate sound. Or you can use the projector's 2-watt speakers.
The projector includes a very easy-to-use dial for focusing the lens once you're projecting, and also for adjusting the height of the display. It has an SD card slot that you can use for PC-less presentations.
Overall this handy unit provides for quick and easy setup for viewing videos or presentations, whether you're in the boardroom or the living room.
- Ryan Francis
Compact, portable projectors remain a staple of business, but these can also be useful in the home, especially when optimized for HDTV. The ViewSonic PLED-W500 is just such a beast, with a native 720p (1280x800) resolution. No, this isn't 1080p (although up to 1080p input [scaled] is supported), but the objective here is a great big-screen experience from a very small package. And this resolution does indeed match that of many notebooks today, so the PLED-W500 might also be a good choice for business presentations. But wait - it gets better.
The PLED-W500 has 1GB of internal storage, which can display Microsoft Office, PDFs, and other files natively, without a computer attached. Wi-Fi is optional (at up to 1024 x 768), meaning you don't even have to plug in a computer - but HDMI is standard if you do, along with composite, component, USB, and even S-video ports. Apps for iOS and Android are available to drive presentations right from your handheld - long a desire of mine.
The internal guts are DLP, which isn't seen much in TVs anymore (it can't be made super-thin) but this is perfect for projectors. The light source for the PLED-W500, as one might guess from the model number, is a bright white LED, promising long life, limited heat output, and little noise (the bane of most projectors, in my experience). We set up the projector using a commercial projection screen at a distance of about three meters with a resulting 2.13 meters image size, and the result looked great, with brightness rated at 500 lumens. DP-Link 3D is supported (with optional glasses and an external video processor), with a 120-Hz. refresh rate.
The projector is quite small - just 2.6 pounds and 1.6 inches high. You'll need to download the manual; the included Quick Start Guide is less than basic. The zoom is digital-only; a minor drawback in most cases. You can tweak a large array of options, but the results look pretty good right out of the box. The only drawback - it's still kind of noisy, but not unusually so for a projector.
- Craig Mathias