back to article Techies cook up Minority Report-style video calling

Boffins at BT's Adastral Park have been looking at video calling, trying to work out why we persist with voice and how video calling might get good enough for the whole family to enjoy. The project was called Together Anywhere Anytime, or TA2 (tattoo), and comprised four years of study winding up in March this year, but now …


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  1. Bill Neal
    Black Helicopters

    ...why we persist with voice?

    "The whole thing runs on around a dozen PCs. One for each of the nine cameras, one to sort out the audio, one to perform the analysis and one to pick the shots" THAT is why nobody uses it. That cost and the lack of global standards. Besides, we have things like skype now. I know I can shut off the computer and not have it continuously able to watch the room like the 1984 edition TV.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What my wife says...

      Do you really thing I want to have to dress for the occasion, make sure I'm washed, my hair is in place and I look respectable, make up done BEFORE I answer the phone!

      At least if I'm slobbing about in my dressing gown, my slippers with breakfast spilled down me and have just got out of bed after a night out, the person phoning me has no idea what I look like!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What my wife says...

        The joys of working from home, eh?

  2. John H Woods Silver badge

    Camera shy?

    If I point a camera at either my daughter or wife, both of whom I consider to be reasonably easy on the eye, they will immediately look away and protest. My sons, like normal teenage boys, look uncomfortable and stilted. My niece, who is a traffic-stopping beauty, will always insist she is not correctly dressed or correctly made up and therefore will avoid the camera at all costs.

    As someone who could be kindly described as 'no oil painting' I don't really care, but then the problem is the other way round - who wants to look at me when I'm talking?

    I think the fundamental problem with video calling is psychological, not technological. Watch people talking to each other - they hardly ever look at each other for the entire duration of the conversation - something which video calling almost forces you to do. For instance, in a company meeting, the thing people want to see is the screen of the presenter, not the presenter themselves.

    Next time you are on the phone, imagine you (and quite possibly your surroundings) are on camera for the duration of the call. It soon becomes clear that however good video calling gets, it will only be really suitable for certain contexts - lovers, grandparents and far-away grandkids, and special occaisions.

    Anyone who really wants to video call can already do it now. I very much doubt that making it easier or more seamless will have anything more than a marginal effect on its uptake.

  3. Graham Marsden

    "why we persist with voice"

    I work from home. If I'm answering the phone I want to deal with whatever the person on the other end wants to talk about, not whether I need a shave or my hair needs combing or I've not bothered getting dressed today and I'm sitting around in a dressing gown.

    Video calling is simply not something I need and I'm sure that goes for many other people too.

  4. Bruce Ordway

    Video calling is simply not something I need

    I'm usually reasonably dressed and at work when involved in a conference call.

    Still, I'm not interested in being seen or seeing the person(s) involved.

    Even when I'm in a room of people speaking, I may not be looking directly at any one person for long.

    I wonder what visual information could be used instead of talking heads.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Taking EU taxpayer dollars then making patents is a disgrace

    ”Some of the companies involved have been busy squirreling away patents based on their contribution to the project, but this kind of EU funding is supposed to help European companies as well as contributing to the global bank of knowledge.”

    Lawyers - I saw we burn the fucking lot of them

    1. Jon B

      Re: Taking EU taxpayer dollars then making patents is a disgrace

      At least it's more preferable than Apple taking out another patent on something they didn't invent themselves.

  6. tkioz

    Why I don't bother?

    Why I don't bother with video calls? I'm need to not be my normal ugly self. I mean, on the phone or headset you can scratch your junk, be unshaven, eat (after hitting the mute button!), drink (again mute), and multitask (nothing beats reading things while someone is yammering on about their cat).

    So yeah it's more about being lazy then being against the tech.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why I don't bother?

      "on the phone or headset you can scratch your junk, be unshaven, eat (after hitting the mute button!), drink (again mute), "

      On a conference call there's no need for that mute button. The munching and slurping sounds will amuse other participants, just make sure you don't give yourself away by talking through a mouthful.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They didn't show you the configuration that always focuses on whoever wears the Coca-Cola logo t-shirt?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I want video calling.

    Before Skype and such, it was really hard to convey "air-quotes" on the 'phone. A dark age it was.

  9. annodomini2

    in addition to the above

    Most people use mobiles, with costed monthly allowance of voice minutes.

    Why would someone want to have to find a WiFi connection and pay 50p+/min to do basically the same as a voice call?

    1. stucs201

      Re: in addition to the above

      The other problem with video calls on mobiles is when calling someone's mobile - until they answer you don't know where they are, if they're taking advantage of the mobility of their phone there is a good chance they're somewhere where a video call isn't practical.

  10. Martin Huizing

    this is what I would like to see/

    Whoever is talking will have his/her picture shown on screen. Voice recognition and little computing power necessary. Ideal for conference calls.

    Can I get my 18 mil now?

  11. Ben M

    All very well and good...

    But isn't this trying to hold back the tide?

    The point of the telephone was to talk to someone who's not standing next to you. The point of the mobile phone was to do that even when you're on the move. That was nice for a while, but the novelty's worn off. We're using voice data less and less each year. It turns out we don't really want to talk to each other - at least not in real-time. It's infinitely better to chat via text messages, voicemail, status updates, IM, tweets and what-not.

    So why do academics think we want to *see* the other person when we're talking to them, when actually we don't even want to talk to them in the first place?

    If they want us to talk to each other and have 'real' interactions more, they should start by banning caller-id - particularly for mobile phones. But until then I'm quite happy with the status quo, thankyouverymuch. It suits me just fine to know who's calling, and that they'll leave me a voice message, and that I can get back to my dinner in front of the telly in a bit of peace and quiet

  12. Faqinel

    18 million of our hard earned taxes down the drain

    what an utter waste of money. why does a company the size of BT need a grant anyway?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 18 million of our hard earned taxes down the drain

      I'll tell you why: Because you don't get an £11 billion quid a month budget deficit by spending money wisely.

      The halfwits, liars, and thieves of Westminster have simply lost all sense of control or propriety. The Condems are taxing, borrowing and spending more than ever before (for no useful output), and the liars and thieves on the opposition benches are complaining about entirely fictious cuts in public spending (as though that were a worthwhile "output").

  13. Thomas Gray

    This is actually pretty good

    I can see this being very useful for conducting board-type meetings where one or two participants cannot be in the same room as the rest. As for the "it needs too many computers" comments, that could have been applied to most new processes at the outset. If it becomes a commercial reality, the processing power for each camera will be embedded in the unit, leaving just one needed to glue it all together.

    If it stops the need to jet across the Atlantic for a board meeting, it is well worth doing IMO.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. ElNumbre

        Re: This is actually pretty good

        This doesn't sounds like much of an improvement on the teleconference suites that currently exist, other than the automation piece. If you've ever had a meeting one of the top-end systems, you do wonder (other than upfront costs) why exec's waste so much time flying back and fourth for meetings.

  14. Gary F

    Why we persist with voice?

    Because I don't have to look at a camera and ACT INTERESTED for every second of the call! With voice-only I can multi-task! Maybe the term "multi-task" is new to BT?

    e.g. eat my lunch, reply to an email, pick my nose, check my phone for messages, scratch a spot, talk to colleagues or wife (depending where I am), read a news article, etc.

    How can I do any of these with a video caller watching me every second? NO THANK YOU, BT.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why 'no' to video

    I had a VERY bad experience once. I was talking to my dad and soon to be step mom via Skype, they are not very computer literate, but as their favorite boy was away from home, they made the effort to talk to me via Skype. I was late for an appointment, gave them both my love and ran to the bedroom. At this point, unbeknown to me, a couple of their friends had come to their house and were amazed that they were finally in the computer age, then they all got the shock of their lives. I walked back into my lounge to answer the home phone.

    Problem 1... Im Naked

    Problem 2... I didn't bother ending the call (I thought they would do it...)

    Scratching the family jewels I hear this kind of laugh and shriek at the same time time - Step mom was showing her friend how good Skype was.

    You can guess the rest! Now imagine having multiple cameras in multiple places in the house. No thanks. I will stick with my corded home phone and Jesus mobe.

    Anonymous - Cos I should have known better...

  16. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    There are a couple of things I think are preventing widescale consumer use of video calling. Having some bit of software trying to work out which caller in a conference people are interested in and switching to them is not the answer..

    The problems are:

    1) People, for whatever reason, don't always want to be seen. I know women who will put on full makeup and do their hair just to go to Sainsburys. Callers aren't going to hang around for half an hour for someone to answer the phone. Conversely, those people aren't going to be willing to answer the phone without doing that.

    2) Bandwidth. People are increasingly abandoning fixed lines and switching to mobiles. Most mobile tariffs have a strictly limited amount of data that can be transmitted each period. Also, most mobile networks cannot provide adequate speed for video calling across the whole network. This some condition applies to fixed-line broadband connections as well.

    Now, I am not saying Video conferencing and calling doesn't have a use. It does. The University I work for used to send staff to other institutions all over the planet. Video conferencing has removed the need for a *lot* of those flights. This has the triple advantage for the Uni that the staff are unavailable for the minimum amount of time, the University's carbon footprint is reduced massively along with costs.

  17. Camilla Smythe


    I believe that is a 'Telephonic' term referring to Subscriber Trunk Dialling.

    'Oooooo Audrey! I think you have an STD.'

    'Well do tell Marge. I have been a bit itchy down under recently.'

    'Perhaps you should talk to your.....



    'Who was that fat bastard!?'

    'Don't know. Perhaps we should discuss things in private down the Bingo next Saturday.'

  18. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Hardly a mystery

    Video conferencing has been around for decades, and these days it's as good as free, so it's fair to ask why we don't make more use of it.

    Very well, consider it asked.

    I do a fair bit of video conference-calling (several times a week, on average), and similar amounts of voice-only conference calling. I've used video calls for some years now.

    Video conference calling is dreadful. I only use it when other people on the call want it. I find it offers very little advantage, even when there are no technical issues, even when most of the concerns people have voiced above (needing to look presentable, etc) don't apply, even when the attendees know each other well. At best people ignore the video; more often it makes them uncomfortable or serves as a distraction.

    Many people (for example in comments on previous Reg stories about video calling) have praised video calls for some personal purposes, typically when calling distant family members. It's nice they like that application - but apparently many others aren't interested in it. (I'm not, and none of my family seem to be either.)

    This is a technology that's been commercially available for half a century, and is now, as the article points out, nearly free for many users, but has yet to find a significant market.

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