Video phones fifty years ago

Danny McG

Sep 9, 2016
Cumbria UK
Anyone ever used One?

Is that a real advert? Not some cutting from a science fiction magazine predicting the future that never happened?

I wasn't aware of such a thing either. It would have been very expensive, so an attended service between New York, Washington and Chicago could only have been between the CEOs in offices of some big Corporations.

I may have said this before, but I was practically weened on Thunderbirds as a child and apart from the seats that moved and automatically dressed the pilots (Batman possibly did that first) it was the Videophones in the pictures on the wall that fascinated me. Lady Penelope's flying car with machine guns never seemed real, but I could imagine a future with Videophones.

So, now that we have Skype and Facebook Messenger and webcams, and they are accepted as quite everyday tech, I find myself feeling very old.
My apologies. I'm sorry I was skeptical but after some Google searching.

It gives me this: which means that in 1969 Bell Laboratories (who were cutting edge) were thinking of possibly bringing in a limited service in 1970.

Popular Science March 1988 says that they have been "available for years" but now only cost $399 and available for the home for the first time.

But then I found this which says they were actually introduced in 1964 but they flopped and cost the company half a billion (but almost created the internet early.)

AT&T had developed a demonstration video phone (well probably more accurately described as a video booth/room) in the 1920s and I see there was an actual proper German service for their Post service that allowed video communication in the 1930s.

The idea itself, of course, goes way further back.

I don't have the stats, but part of the reason the 60s version didn't take off was, really there was no demand. Do you want to show your green, hung-over face to a stranger on Sunday morning? I suspect even today, although video phoning is much more ubiquitous, people still prefer disembodied non-video communication generally when it comes to conversations in real time over networks.
Do you want to show your green, hung-over face to a stranger on Sunday morning? I suspect even today, although video phoning is much more ubiquitous, people still prefer disembodied non-video communication generally when it comes to conversations in real time over networks.
That's certainly true for my children. When my son was at University my wife insisted that he Skype so that she could see he was eating well, had no bruises or cuts, and was not hung-over. For some reason, Skype would never work and he would prefer to telephone instead.
Around 1960, mexican wrestler movie stars had them in their cars, in mexican wrestler SF movies, so I thought they were passe and stupid because TV was stupid. And talking on the phone was kind of looked on as a waste of time too. So double stupid idea, it just took time to sell it.
I faintly remember Look and Learn (incorporating Ranger) magazine doing a centre spread on these phones . "Hey kids, look what they're doing in America, soon to be worldwide!"
This was at a time when maybe one house in fifty in the UK had a phone
Personally I don't feel the need for a video phone. I experimented with Skype in its early days and hated it, stopping very quickly. I have a smart phone but have never used it to make a video call and none of my friends have ever asked to be able to call me in that way. But then I'm a confirmed bachelor so I've no wife or kids and who else would be interested in seeing my ugly mug? ;):D
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Good golly.

I did not realize that video phones were that old.

Like Vertigo, I don't care for video with my conversation. I like the privacy that audio only affords.
Technology quite often exists in a more advanced form than what is actually being made.

John Logie Baird gave a practical demonstration of his 3D Television tech in 1941!!! He then showed off a full colour television set in 1944!

(One fact not commonly known is that during the Second World War, the Royal Air Force were using 3d / stereoscopic Camera and photography technology on planes sent over enemy territory on intelligence gathering missions - developing the stereoscopic plates and then laying them out on a table had various benefits, such as showing the terrain, in terms off hills, valleys, mountains and so on, rather than trying to decipher a "flat" image)

A quick google is a bit shocking, it suggests that HD TV was invented in the 80's and was first broadcast in 1996, in the US. That is not true!!!

John Logie Baird had a HD style system by 1943, the year in which the Hankey Committee was appointed to oversee the resumption of television broadcasts after the war. Baird persuaded them to make plans to adopt his proposed 1000-line Telechrome electronic colour system as the new post-war broadcast standard. The picture resolution on this system would have been comparable to today's HDTV (High Definition Television). of course, it wouldn't have looked as good as I dunno, Force Awakens on a 4K tv or whatever, but it sounds like it would have looked a lot better than the broadcast tech of the next 40+ years! and imagine what sort of TV tech we might have now, if JLB had got his way with the Hankey Committee!
This is all possibly very true, but I'd guess the higher definition technology would have been significantly more expensive for the recording and transmitting as well as the viewing which in turn would probably have delayed its take up or at least made it even more elitist than it was at the beginning.
I agree with @Vertigo . New tech is always expensive. My first desktop cost me $900. I'm currently typing on a $240 laptop that does exponentially more!

Going with that proposed technology might even have set back broadcast television for quite some time!
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I agree with Vertigo and Cathbad, and will add a funny, personal story.

My parents (and my paternal grandparents) used black and white(!) TVs for an abnormally long time. No one else that I knew had the privations of a gray world!

My father simply explained that they worked adequately. His was an understatement. These boxes would not die! He still had one when TV converted to digital!!

I do concede that that set was unusually sharp and had fantastic reception.
The 1st color sets came out and the stations weren't color coded, so every time you changed channels, you had to adjust the color, with the 3 knobs.
I'd forgotten about the three knobs. Tell that to the kids of today and they won't believe you... It sounds as backward now as hand washing clothes with a wringer.
as I understand it, the reason the committee didn't go with JLB's system was indeed cost, but not its theoretical cost to the British Public, but the cost to the government to fund the infrastructure and building the system - this was the UK, so of course, the first television network (which of course still exists) was a Public taxpayer & licence fee funded institution, the BBC.

I wonder how big a difference in price colour would have been - I am not sure it would have made a huge difference to takeup amongst the working classes for the first couple of decades as they couldnt afford B&W either! i believe the early TV Sets in the UK cost as much as a small Car, well outwith the affordability of the working classes, more a toy for financially comfortable professional middle class families.
Did you ever get home phones that can send emails in the States? We had them about 15+ years ago, made by Alan Sugar's Amstrad - they didn't xactly set the world or the public alight! In the UK Payphones in the street had the ability to send email too.

The thing that amazes me is "Minitel" it was rolled out in Brittany, France in 1978 and had been rolled out to the rest of Metropolitan France by 1982 - it was effectively a pre www home computer network, a "videotex" online service with which users could reserve train tickets, do shopping, check stock prices and send email and live chat. Always wondered why it never got tried in the UK, or elsewhere in Europe - they shut the service in 2012, but even in 2009 there was still around 10 million users.
Minitel - Wikipedia

How come Teletext failed to take off in North America? The UK had it from the early 70's, its that thing where you click a button on your tv remote, and access pages of text, news, weather, and so on - a big popular thing was teletext holidays, people would scroll through waiting for the price to get cheap enough then phone a number and book/pay by card.
Teletext - Wikipedia

I wonder if many North Americans still believe that the UK only has 4 channels :D the basic free to view tV system through the aerial has around 60 "proper" channels, a couple dozen shopping ones, 20+ digital radio stations and a load of channels that only work if you have a digital box that connects to the internet - I have never even seen a box for sale that can do that though, so dunno if its really expensive tech, or if its only used by people viewing via a Sky+ digital satellite box, or people who have freeview/digital tv dongles plugged into their pc/laptop.
The worst thing about growing up at a time when we only had 4 channels, wasn't only having 4 channels, it was the fact that by about 1 or 2am there would be an awful "patriotic" transmission with Englands anthem,God Save the Queen and fluttering Union flags then they would all go off air!
Years ago there was a scandal in the local paper, a newcomer was making a fuss because there was a union flag being flown upside down, people were shocked - nobody knew there was even a union flag flying in the town!!

Generally around here, you will only see 4 flags flying, the Welsh Flag, the EU Flag, the St David's Flag and the personal standard of Owain Glyndwr, the last Prince of Wales. Mostly, you only see Owain's standard being flown on houses, windows, gardens etc in North Ceredigion and North Wales, I havent really seen it anywhere on my infrequent visits to South Ceredigion, and I doubt that most people in South Wales would even know what it was - all his battles were in North Wales, North Ceredigion and the Mid Wales/English Borders.

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