Hands-on: Skype Goes High-Def with 720p Video Calls

Over the Christmas holiday I had a full-screen video call with my cousin in Florida. And it was great to see her, but the picture was kinda blurry and blocky at full screen. And it was tough to make out her kids in the background. I think I know what I'm getting her for Xmas next year. Today I had a chance to go hands on with Skype's new 720p video calling service, offering high-def quality  at 1280 x 720 pixels. Read on for more details and check out our video to see if you think the quality is worth $100 or more for a webcam.

To enjoy this kind of detail you'll need a few things. First is Skype 4.2 Beta for Windows and a notebook (or desktop) with at least a 1.83-GHz dual-core processor. Sorry, kids, netboooks are a no-go for now. You'll also need a new HD webcam. There's the faceVsion FV TouchCam N1 (about $100), which we used for our hands-on demo, and the Freetalk HD Pro Plus ($140) and Freetalk HD Pro ($120). These webcams will be available in March.

So how good is the quality? At full screen I could easily make out the print on a business card on the other end of the video call, which is impressive. The picture was a bit washed out but overall the level of detail was relatively high, and I'm sure it will get better as Skype and its partners continue to fine tune things. Unfortunately, the faceVsion webcam itself is pretty bulky, so you'll have to sacrifice a little extra travel weight for more pixels.

Skype is also bringing its technology to LG and Panasonic TV via specialized webcams that can pick up audio form the couch. Imagine being able to have a high-def chat with another couch potato across the country in HD, or a video call between a laptop and HDTV.  We'll definitely try to be among the first to bring you a full review of the HD webcams for notebooks when they launch.

Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.