History of Video Calls: From Fantasy to Flops to Facetime

A visual history of the science and sci-fi of phone calls you can see. (And, no, it didn't start with The Jetsons.)

The First Digital Picture Phones

After AT&T's videophone flops in the 1960s and 70s, the company lay low. It would take the 1984 Bell System breakup to bring other companies into the U.S. videophone marketplace. These new devices sent pictures over regular phone lines using conventional modem technology.

Mitsubishi's Visitel LU-500-01 (left) sold for a low $399 in 1988. To send an image, you halted conversation and hit a Send button. 5.5 seconds later, a b&w still picture appeared on the receiver's screen, and the chatter could resume. Sony's 1987 Teleface appeared only in Japan and offered similar capabilities. Both systems were too primitive to catch on.

Photo: Greg Sharko (Popular Science, March 1988)

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