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An extremely common trope found in any stories told in future or high-tech settings (and, to a lesser extent, spy and espionage stories), a Video Phone (Sometimes also referred to as a VidPhone) is a telecommunications device that functions exactly like a telephone but distinctly comes with a video screen which allows for the individuals on both ends of the call (and the audience) to see each other.

In some depictions, such a device may make use of an ordinary telephone receiver in order to speak to and hear the person on the other end, but most often characters usually just talk to the screen.

Like Flying Cars, Ray Guns, and, of course, Jet Packs, this is one of the most frequently observed tropes in depictions of The Future and originally popularized in the Raygun Gothic era of Science Fiction, but where most of these ubiquitous genre tropes remain absent from our reality, the Video Phone has been publicly available in one form or another since 1936; the German government ran public videophone booths prior to WWII, though these early trial services were disrupted by the war. AT&T opened the first public videophone booth in the US in 1964.

Despite this constant attention and the relative simplicity of the technology involved (Alexander Graham Bell himself talked about the possibility), lack of consumer interest kept it from going anywhere; the honest truth was that it seemed that despite all the sci-fi attention it received, the public didn't really want videophones, at least not at any significant price. They only became broadly successful in the modern era once they could be cheaply integrated into existing computer technology, and even then, many would argue they remain more of a novelty outside of the porn business.

Although the technology is relatively simple, the fact is that until the Internet and/or cheap microprocessors (computers) became ubiquitous, it was out of the reach of normal usage because of a lack of bandwidth. Plain old telephone service (POTS) simply can not carry video of any quality without massive compression and even then the entire system would need to be upgraded by a massive amount. It would simply have cost a huge amount of money. Only with modern technology has the public switched telephone network evolved to offer such services like ISDN, DSL, and Fiber.

Compare: Comm Links, for another Sci-Fi phone equivalent. See Also: Cell Phone, Pay Phone, and Phone Booth for more contemporary uses. For a breakdown on how such devices tend to operate in fiction, see Hollywood Web Cam.

Note: Given this trope's increased existence in Real Life, please refrain from listing work examples that use existing technologies in Present Day settings. If a work example of a Video Phone is based on an existing consumer product, please only list the product as a Real Life example, if it's not listed there already.

Examples of Video Phone include:


Anime and Manga

  • These show up almost everywhere a regular phone would in Pokémon.
  • Commonly used in the original Bubblegum Crisis. Most notably, they had video payphones.
  • Cowboy Bebop's in-universe equivalent to the cell phone uses video feeds on both ends of a call.
  • Some were seen in Neon Genesis Evangelion.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Aramaki is talking via wallscreen to a contact. Although the screen shows the man in military uniform, he's actually in a bathrobe cutting his toenails.

Comics

  • Commonplace in Judge Dredd and its Spin-Off stories where they're frequently called VidPhones. Models vary, sometimes having mic stands, ordinary phone receivers, or no visible microphones or speakers at all.
  • Veronica of the future once got one installed, only to switch back to normal phones because her friends called while she was doing face masks or when she'd just gotten up.
  • The Blake and Mortimer adventure "The Time Trap" depicts a dystopian far future in which communication takes place via camera-equipped wrist phones, for those who can afford them anyway.
  • Marvel 2099 takes it to the next stage with the holo-phone. The first issue of Spider-Man 2099 opens with Miguel checking his messages:

 Gabriel: Hi, Miguel, it's me.

Miguel: I know it's you, Gabe. Holo-phone, remember?

Film

  • Back to The Future Part II, The Future McFly household's video phone is connected to the television set. Personal information about the individual on the other end of the line is scrolled through on screen, including name, age, occupation, home address, spouse, children, and assorted hobbies and preferences. Video calling is also sponsored by AT&T.
  • Johnny Mnemonic opens with the main character making a call on a video phone that also doubles as a television and an alarm clock, all of which can be operated by remote control. Another such phone shows up in the back of a future taxi cab, and the Street Preacher has one hidden in his Bible (or whatever Holy Book equivalent he has). Video phone screens are also branded with AT&T's company logo, AT&T having tried to develop such technology since the 1960's.
  • In Blade Runner, Deckard has a vidphone in his car, which he uses to call Sebastian's residence, only for his call to be answered by Pris.
  • Featured in Until the End of the World. Video payphones also take credit cards.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey featured a videophone in a phone booth, in a rotating space station.
  • In Starship Troopers, Johnny Rico is talking to his parents in Buenos Aires via Video Phone when the Bug asteroid hits the city.
  • A video phone appears in the 1929 silent movie High Treason.
  • Austin Powers has one in his car. Very helpful for Basil Exposition to talk to him.
  • Ro-Man in Robot Monster uses a video linkup to communicate with Great Guidance on the planet Ro-Man.
  • These are used in Total Recall a lot. In the movie, talking to someone on Mars was as easy as phoning them up on Earth. In fact, Cohaagen (when on Mars) uses his vid phone to call Richter (on Earth) without any technical difficulties.
  • Used in Aliens, for instance right after Ripley's nightmare at the beginning.
  • They appear in Demolition Man. John Spartan gets a wrong number from a topless chick.
  • The Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The 6th Day interestingly showcased a video phone call with an automated machine... for 911 Emergencies.
  • Seen in Metropolis which, made in 1927, is a likely candidate for being the Ur Example.
  • Spaceballs:

 Barf: I'll just put it on audio. That way they won't see ya. (activates a switch) 'Yello.

Vinnie: (appearing on video screen) Hello, Lone Starr.

Barf: Sorry, wrong switch.

    • Also when President Skroob is in the toilet and the mirror in front of him suddenly turns into a wallscreen. He is not amused, especially when his female Number Two tricks him into exposing himself while giving the Spaceball salute.
  • Some of the only dialogue in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times comes from the factory boss pestering people via videophone, including when poor Charlie tries to take a badly needed break.

  "Hey! Get back to work!"

  • The interocitor in This Island Earth counts.
  • Spoofed in the second Airplane! movie. Someone on the moonbase turns on a screen and after some static and wavy lines appear is able to get through to William Shatner. There's a brief conversation, then Shatner opens the door in front of him to reveal he was talking to the man through a window.
  • In Casino Royale 1967 movie David Niven gets Vesper on the video Shoe Phone while she's getting dressed. She indignantly covers the camera until she hears Niven signing off, only to remove her hand to see Niven looking downwards expectantly.
  • Seven Days in May. The White House and Pentagon use video teleconferencing in their Twenty Minutes Into the Future world.
  • Project Moonbase. The female President of the United States speaks to the brave astronauts who've just landed on the moon via a hole in the wall.
  • The Crazies (original). A video link is set up with the President of the United States so he can, if required, authorize the use of nuclear weapons to contain the virus. As the President spends the entire conversation sitting with his back to the camera, one wonders why George Romero didn't just have him talking over a telephone speaker.

Literature

Live Action TV

  • Pee-wee Herman had a video phone on Pee-wee's Playhouse that came with an ordinary phone receiver used to speak to and hear the person he was seeing on the other end of the line.
  • In The Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca's family uses one of these hidden in some kind of dresser to contact the other characters associated with the Rebel Alliance--Luke and R2-D2, Leia and C-3PO, etc.--to ask about Chewie and Han Solo's whereabouts. In a separate instance, Chewie's wife, Mala, contacts Art Carney with a device that doubles as a television which Carney's character refers to as a "wall screen."
  • Max Headroom featured many video phone conversations.
  • In Knight Rider, KITT was equipped with one.
  • Made sporadic appearances in the second season of War of the Worlds.
  • The Outer Limits episode "The Duplicate Man" had video phones with rotary dials.
  • Warehouse 13 has a very Steampunk version apparently, made by the guy who invented TV.
  • Seemed commonplace in RoboCop: The Series.
  • General Beckman's interchanges with the Chuck team mostly happen through one of these, as do liaisons between the 'Castle' and various field operatives.
  • Everyone in Earth: Final Conflict has a Global, a cellphone-sized device with an ejectable touchscreen that allows face-to-face video chats. It is also a GPS and has several other functions. Pretty much a modern smartphone.
  • In the various Star Trek series, the characters communicate with visual communication links as often as they use audio only. The main difference is that in like the Original Series, the crew itself typically communicates with each other with a visual element only when there is something that one of the respondents should see, ie. the mysterious probe in "The Corbonmite Maneuver."
  • These were one of the few indications that most of the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who stories were meant to be Twenty Minutes Into the Future.

Newspaper Comics

  • Dick Tracy has a "2-Way Wrist TV" that carries the same function and used to communicate with police headquarters.
  • One Dilbert strip involves Dilbert being the first person in the city to own a videophone. He then sits next to the phone, waiting for someone else to buy one so he can call them.

Theatre

  • Alan Ayckbourn's sci-fi play Henceforward features a video phone, though it's never answered; people just leave messages.

Video Games

  • Half-Life 2 features several Video Phone calls, notably between Alyx and her father. Extra points for touching the screen to emphasize the separation.
  • In Dead Space, Isaac has an ultra hi-tech video phone with a projected holographic screen as part of the RIG suit's Comm Link. While the transmission is monochrome blue in Dead Space, the more advanced systems is Dead Space 2 are in full-color.
    • Fun fact: the videophone's camera location is not Hand Waved like one would expect with a holographic Video Phone. In all communications, it's either on the wrist of the characters, or, more frequently, embedded into one of the nearby walls. Which means that the RIG is constantly on-line with the station/ship that Isaac is on.

Western Animation

  • One episode of The Simpsons taking place in the future, "Lisa's Wedding," showcased a conversation between Lisa and Marge using a "picture phone." Marge kept forgetting that Lisa could see her over the phone, and her body language made it more obvious to tell when she was lying.
  • Frequently seen in The Jetsons, fitting the show's Raygun Gothic aesthetic. The drawbacks are sometimes used for laughs such as the women have morning masks which are supposed to be quickly put on in case of calls coming in before they have made themselves up.
  • In COPS, videophones are the norm to the point that even public phone booths have screens; they are, after all, fighting crime in a future time. And yes, cell phones pretty much don't exist.

Real Life

  • Most laptop computers now come with in-built webcams. Fancy-pants video streaming software turns it into a Video Phone:
  • Pretty much every smartphone allows for two people with the phone to engage face-to-face calls, incorporating both the device's camera and speaker phone capabilities.
    • Interoperability, however, is another matter[1]...
  • Cisco Systems has produced several telecommunication devices which make long-distance face-to-face conversations possible that the company has notably been showcasing in an ongoing advertisement campaign with Ellen Page.
  • CUE NET and similar devices.
  • As described in The Other Wiki, the German Reichspost ran a public videophone service in 1936, though it was shut down for WWII.
  • AT&T opened its first public videophone booths in the US -- the Picturephone Mod I -- in 1964.

Notes

  1. Video calling outside of home operators is a hit-or-miss affair, as some operators do not allow video calls to leave their home network. Also, while most cellphones adhere by the ITU 3G video call specification, Apple chose to implement their own Facetime system on the iPhone instead, meaning that an iPhone can never accept video calls from 3G video-compliant phones, nor can it place direct video calls to 3G video-compliant phones
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