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Biscotti Introduces Standalone High-Definition TV Phone

By Chris Chiarella

Video calling is nothing new, but its adoption as a mainstream means of communication has been hindered somewhat by quality and ease-of-use limitations. The Biscotti TV Phone aims to do something about that.

Named apparently for its resemblance to a popular coffee-dunking cookie (as an Italian with a sweet tooth, I heartily approve) the slender, unobtrusive device brings big-screen video calling to any TV with an HDMI connection. It enables unlimited free video calls to anyone, anywhere in the world, to other Biscotti users as well as to computers, tablets and smartphones that support Google Voice and Video.

"Biscotti TV Phone was created to let family and friends of all ages enjoy video calling on the biggest screen you own. It has been designed to be elegant and tiny, and to blend into your living room," quoth Dr. Matthew B. Shoemake, CEO and Founder of Biscotti Inc.

Calling is one thing, two-way video communication is something else. The uses are self-evident, as family and friends are often scattered over great distances, parents away from home might be missing their kids, and seniors might not travel as much as they'd like for genuine facetime with loved ones.

The sleek, elegant Biscotti TV Phone hardware.

The Biscotti experience takes us away from the computer, which might not be located near the best seat in the house and which can also take a while to boot, and then launch the necessary application. The one-and-a-half-ounce Biscotti mounts atop the TV (kit included), its HD camera able to capture everyone in the room, for more natural group interaction, as if the gang was all together in-person.  It can also be panned and zoomed by remote in case you'd rather go in for a more intimate shot.

Only minimal technical know-how is necessary, just a TV, a Wi-Fi connection and something to say. (Actually, based on some recent conversations I've had, that last part could be considered optional.) Wi-Fi uplink speeds as low as 256 kilobits-per-second will work, but speeds of one megabit-per-second or higher deliver a true HD image (720p resolution).

Greetings from the home theater at Shady Oaks!

We haven't reviewed a unit hands-on, but we did participate in a detailed demo of the product earlier this week at the CES Press PReview in New York, and it appeared to deliver on all of its maker's promises.  The device is said to be about as simple as plug-and-play, compatible with HDMI-enabled TVs and popular cable and satellite boxes, and as easy to use as a traditional home phone.  With both an HDMI input and output, it can sit in-line with your cable or satellite set-top box and notify you when calls are coming in, without you needing to switch inputs in order to take the call.  It can even be programmed to answer automatically, if you're installing one for a not-so-technically inclined family member (which is why it is always important to wear pants).

And if you're not one who likes to watch TV, you can even program the unit to turn the television on automatically when a video call comes in. The unit arrives with a six-button remote to navigate Biscotti's onscreen menu system and set up the address book and call/answer settings.

A sample Biscotti video call. (Your family may vary.)

Shoemake reports that video calling has been growing at a rate of almost 50% year-over-year, even though only one in five people have ever made a video call, for a variety of reasons that Biscotti has handily addressed. The Biscotti TV phone is available now via the website for $199, with no monthly fees.

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