Watch any movie set in the future, even the near-future, and you'll see video phones in every house. Whether it's a large screen like a TV, a pop-up screen from a desk or a smaller unit like a wall intercom, a video phone signals a high-tech society.
So it's odd that with all the technology at our disposal, we don't really have standalone video phones. Sure it's been tried from companies as large as Microsoft and Cisco, but for some reason it's never caught on. Now there's a new company that's taking another shot at it, and it thinks it has the winning formula.
The company is called Nucleus and it's offering a sleek tablet-like gadget, also called the Nucleus, with a built-in camera and an 8-inch touch screen. Ideally, every extended family member will have one in their home for simple access. You can even have multiple ones in the home and use them like a video intercom system.
To make a call, you simply select the person you want to talk to, or ask tell it who to call using natural voice commands. Not only is it designed to be simple enough for anyone to use, the system can start a connection in just 200 milliseconds. That's about two blinks of an eye, or fast enough to qualify as "instantly."
Here it is in action:
Nucleus has also thrown in some other handy features like a camera that can swivel, so you can point it at a wall when you aren't using it. There's also an auto-answer system so units in a bedroom or other intimate rooms won't pick up automatically.
Nucleus is also integrating with smart home systems to act as a controller, has an unnamed streaming service on board to handle calls outside the home, and it can stream to an iOS or Android app when someone is on the go. It sounds like the futuristic video gadget we've been missing. But is it?
The Nucleus has a few hurdles to overcome. The first is the price tag, which is $209 on pre-order and $249 full retail for each unit. That's about the same (or more than) as a budget tablet, or the down-payment on a high-end smartphone.
And that's the second problem. Modern tablets and smartphones both contain cameras and access to free video chat services, such as Skype and FaceTime. Plus, you can take a tablet or smartphone with you when you travel and they do a lot more than just video chat.
If you're looking for a static video chat gadget in your house, just about everyone has a computer with a webcam, and Microsoft is integrating Skype more deeply into Windows with every update. Plus, more expensive TVs now have built-in webcams and video chat apps, so expect all TVs to have video chat in the coming years.
Nucleus is banking on the fact that its system is dead simple to use, and it has a point. We've all had that video chat where the first 30 minutes is spent just getting everyone's audio and video to work right. For certain family members and situations, a dead-simple, easy-to-use system might be the ticket.
Of course, video chat is getting easier with each new gadget and software update, and Nucleus isn't shipping its system until spring 2016. Who knows what the video chat landscape will be like then, but it will probably be an even harder sell for a dedicated unit.
That brings us back to the original point, and it's an interesting one. The reason we don't have "futuristic" standalone video calling systems is that we've already got something better. We've out-futured the future. Next maybe we'll skip the flying cars and go straight to transporters.
What do you think about Nucleus? Does it sound like something you could use, or just another gadget taking up space? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.