Video chat has come a long way since the days of choppy video and out-of-sync audio. Today, nearly every laptop features a webcam, and services like Skype are helping people virtually connect with family and friends. But using such services requires at least some technical knowledge. That's where Biscotti TV Phone comes in.
A fully functional webcam, the $199 Biscotti eliminates the need for a computer or third-party software, by connecting directly to your TV. The system works with both Biscotti's network and Google Talk. Best of all, every call is free. Read on to find how well this gadget lets you reach out and see someone.
Click to EnlargeWeighing no more than three ounces, the 0.75 x 5.9 x 0.94-inch crescent-shaped Biscotti could easily pass as one of the Italian cookies it takes its name from. Of course, the grill on top of the unit, and its glossy exterior, are dead giveaways that this is no bakery item. The Biscotti's face features an infrared sensor on its left side and an indicator light on its right. Front and center is Biscotti's 5-megapixel webcam, situated just above the company's logo printed in white cursive. Around back are HDMI In, HDMI Out and power ports.
Biscotti's roughly three-inch remote features four navigation buttons, a back button and a select button. Each of the buttons are covered in a comfortable rubberized material and sport Biscotti's yellow-and-black color scheme. The bottom of the remote features the same glossy black paint job found on the Biscotti webcam.
Setting up the Biscotti was extremely easy, taking just 10 minutes from the time we opened the box until we were chatting with a friend. You take the Biscotti out of the box, plug in its power adapter, connect it to your television via an HDMI cable, and you're set.
Note that Biscotti doesn't provide you with an HDMI cable. And if you want to get the most out of the device, you'll need a second HDMI cable to make Biscotti automatically alert you if you have an incoming call when you're watching TV. The first cable is needed to connect the webcam to your television, while the second connects the webcam to your cable box. In other words, that $199 price is misleading.
Users who have very thin televisions will also run into problems while setting up their Biscotti. That's because the company suggests attaching the webcam to the top of your television using two included plastic straps that have an adhesive backing. This may prove difficult for some LED televisions and LCD displays, whose top edges may be too thin to properly mount the device. Of course, most users will probably be able to find a place for the device next to or below their televisions, but for those users who have less available space, this can be an inconvenience.
Click to EnlargeConfiguring our Biscotti for our television was just as easy as setting it up. After plugging in the device, we simply had to turn on our TV and make our way through the account setup. Since the Biscotti doesn't have an Ethernet port, you'll have to ensure you have an available Wi-Fi connection. Once connected to the Web, you'll be asked to create a Biscotti ID, username, password and profile picture.
Entering our user information was more time consuming than we would have liked. In order to input our information we had to navigate an alphanumeric grid, using the Biscotti's remote. That in itself wasn't so bad, but when you throw in the noticeable half-second delay for our inputs to register, entering our information felt like a real hassle. Thankfully, you'll only have to enter your profile data once.
Biscotti went out of its way to make navigating its user interface intuitive, which will be attractive for grandparents and other users who would rather not fire up a PC to video chat.
The red-and-yellow color scheme and large, easy-to-read text make the interface feel open and inviting. On the left side of the main homescreen you'll find your profile picture, and underneath that you'll see tabs for your contacts, call history, settings, and a status indicator for your wireless connection.
To call a friend from the contacts list, simply highlight his or her name and press the select button on your remote. Press the right-directional button while a contact is highlighted and you can choose to make a voice call to your contact, set your Biscotti to automatically answer when they call you, or delete their information.
Biscotti features two forms of auto answer. The first will cause the device's status light to blink when you receive a call from a contact, and will automatically connect you with them when you turn on your TV. You can also set Biscotti to automatically turn on your TV when you receive a call from a select contact.
Despite its relatively Spartan interface, Biscotti provides users with a decent amount of configuration options. From the settings menu, users can choose from five tabs, including Camera, Wi-Fi, Language, Restart, Erase and About. The Camera tab allows users to adjust the camera in order to ensure it provides the best view of a given room, while the Wi-Fi and Language tabs allow you to choose a new Wi-Fi connection and change the display language for the device.
The Restart tab, as its name implies, lets you restart your Biscotti, a nice feature since there is no physical off button. The Erase tab lets you completely erase all your user information from the device.
Biscotti allows users to make calls to both other Biscotti owners and Google Talk users, meaning you can video chat with your friends on their smartphones and tablets, too. When calling another Biscotti user, images were slightly pixelated, but watchable. Surprisingly, the Biscotti was able to pick up our voice as we sat on a couch about eight feet from the device. Audio quality was excellent when using the Biscotti in a quiet room.
Images displayed during a chat with a friend using Google Talk on a laptop suffered from a bit more pixelation. We also noted some blurring as we moved within the camera's view, although we didn't notice any stuttering. Overall, video call quality using Biscotti was adequate. That being said, we have seen significantly sharper images while using Skype with an HD webcam.
Biscotti boasts that its webcam enables users to view an entire room at once, but for you to see that kind of image, your friend will have to have a Biscotti as well. It's only when someone calls you from their Biscotti that the whole purpose of the product becomes evident. Seeing a large room of people is reason enough to buy one of these webcams. Unfortunately, the further away someone is from their Biscotti, the more pixelated the image becomes, which makes fitting a large amount of people in one shot difficult without negatively impacting image quality.
We tried repeatedly to place video calls from our Biscotti to a smartphone with Google Talk's video chat feature, but were never able to connect. Calls made from our phone would time out before Biscotti recognized the signal, while calls made from Biscotti to our phone never went through.
As a stand-alone webcam, the $199 Biscotti TV Phone is merely adequate. Its video quality was grainy, and we couldn't get it to work with a smartphone. However, for its target audience--say, grandparents who might not have a computer but want an easy way to video chat with their grandkids--it works fairly well. The simplicity with which users can make calls and the intuitive interface help make up for some of Biscotti's shortcomings. If you want to stay in touch with a loved one who is technologically challenged, Biscotti is a good choice.