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The first commercial video call happened today 50 years ago



With the advent of small cameras and the advancement of signal compression, switchboard and circuit technology, AT&T was able to create Picturephone Mod II for homes and offices. It has a 5.5-inch by 5-inch black-and-white screen with a resolution of 250 lines and a refresh rate of 30 interlaced frames per second. The resolution of the camera is equivalent to 0.8 megapixels.

Mod II also has an integrated mirror that you can flip to display yourself or a table or a file on the table-basically an early form of screen sharing. AT&T charges a monthly usage fee of $1

60, which is equivalent to today’s $1,092, and you will get 30 minutes of ample talk time.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the device did not take off. By 1973, only about 450 Mod IIs were used. The company expects that by 1975, 100,000 Picturephones will be in use on its network.

From the 1950s to the early 1970s, the company invested $1 billion in the research and development of video telephony, and has been working hard to make various forms of Picturephone successful until the 1990s. It failed because of high costs, low demand, and people’s unwillingness to see widespread social reluctance over the phone.

Of course, there are billions of people now with smartphones, tablets and computers with webcams, and many of us are very happy to push our faces to the Internet and share visas via video calls. It really changed the day. Mod II may not be what AT&T wanted to change the rules of the game at the time, but it was a key milestone in video calling technology. It is certainly worth celebrating.


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