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The $2,000 FaceTime Box From 1987

Video calling technology is such a mundane feature of smartphones now that it would be weird if a device *didn’t* have it. But the idea for the first FaceTime is buried deep in vintage tech history, all the way back in the 70’s… the 1870’s. And most people hated the idea of it. By the…

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Video calling technology is such a mundane feature of smartphones now that it would be weird if a device *didn’t* have it. But the idea for the first FaceTime is buried deep in vintage tech history, all the way back in the 70’s… the 1870’s. And most people hated the idea of it.

By the time Mitsubishi’s VisiTel videophone graced the cover of Popular Science in 1988, video calling had already gone through generations of inventions, advances, and serious setbacks. When we finally acquired a pair of brand new VisiTel phones to make one single video phone call, humanity had already been through billions of dollars of failures, misguided promises, and losing gambles — including by Bell Labs, likely the most innovative company of the 20th century.

It’s been 150 years since we started thinking about and criticizing live video communication. And we still haven’t fully answered the technology’s most basic question: does anyone really want to be seen?

#technology #science #innovation #retro

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80 Comments

80 Comments

  1. @popularscience

    May 9, 2024 at 12:38 pm

    STORY TIME. I actually wanted to make this video because my uncle bought two Visitels so that my grandparents in Florida could see my cousins in New York. They all used them and they really liked them at the time — but at $399 per unit in 1988, that setup would cost $2,154.20 today.

    To give you an idea of what $399 got you in 1988, the cost of each VisiTel could’ve paid for 13% of tuition at a 4yr public university in the US, about 415 gallons of gas, or around 4,000 shares of Apple stock (which probably would’ve been a better investment). –Kevin

    • @andyvitz

      May 9, 2024 at 8:38 pm

      Sorry the original FaceTime video calling came out in the 1920s I highly doubt you have one of those

    • @dylanscalfscalf9488

      May 9, 2024 at 10:25 pm

      ⁠@@andyvitzdo what?

    • @BillAnt

      May 10, 2024 at 1:00 am

      These types of “video telephones” were usually found in those amazing 1980’s and 90’s Sharper Image catalogs…. oh the wonders of modern technology. lol

  2. @davidgekler

    May 10, 2024 at 1:55 am

    Ha, I actually did the sound for a TV Commercial for this system in 86. There were a number of companies competing to do this, as you noted.

  3. @thej3799

    May 10, 2024 at 2:00 am

    I remember reading about this when back to the Future 2 came out. I also remember that you couldn’t actually use your phone

  4. @hyperturbotechnomike

    May 10, 2024 at 2:51 am

    Germany experimented with CRT TV based video phones during the 1930’s. I saw an obscure presentation film from this time period where they demonstrated a public videophone booth during one segment. It’s called: “Das Auge der Welt” (The eye of the world).

  5. @gamingforfun8662

    May 10, 2024 at 3:53 am

    Criminally underrated channel

  6. @colt5189

    May 10, 2024 at 8:06 am

    What would I pay $90 a minute for? I’d give Margo Robbie 5 minutes.

  7. @dapifyyt

    May 10, 2024 at 8:23 am

    I love these videos they are so much more interesting than 99% of those YouTube shorts

  8. @matchc0635

    May 10, 2024 at 9:29 am

    They send image via sound? Then it should be possible for someone to just send random funnie pictures by a SBC making precise noises

  9. @kearsarge6658

    May 10, 2024 at 10:07 am

    Reminds me of the datastream you’d hear from Slow Scan TV

  10. @LivingNomad

    May 10, 2024 at 10:13 am

    You still see it today with modern creatoins people critique and judge the concept. Like with Elons self landing rockets all i seen were comments complaing that it was bad for the earth. Like the idiots dont know that these self landing rockets will give us the opportunity to live on more then one planet and decrease humans chances on becoming extinct in the future from some random natrual disaster.

  11. @LivingNomad

    May 10, 2024 at 10:15 am

    From my own experience its always more comfortable being on a phone call or team meeting not being required to show yourself on camera.

  12. @LivingNomad

    May 10, 2024 at 10:17 am

    Wild $90 per minute. I would pay that to travel back in the past 😂 but nothing else

  13. @LivingNomad

    May 10, 2024 at 10:23 am

    This was great i love learning about our history

  14. @jasonmead8475

    May 10, 2024 at 12:23 pm

    This was great. Destin sent me this way.

  15. @bagel29

    May 10, 2024 at 12:24 pm

    6:27 TABOR MENTIONED‼️‼️

  16. @crazyivan030983

    May 10, 2024 at 1:49 pm

    Amazing that today we can send dozens of megabits over ordinary phone line 🙂 HD video both ways 🙂

  17. @Derpy1969

    May 10, 2024 at 2:54 pm

    I don’t use FT for calls. I did do one telehealth call that required it.

  18. @rrsaga

    May 10, 2024 at 2:55 pm

    I remember this gadget

  19. @dong6839

    May 10, 2024 at 3:00 pm

    Didnt AT&T do video over copper in the 1950’s or 1960’s?

  20. @jimmy21584

    May 10, 2024 at 3:32 pm

    I worked at Nokia in the mid 2000s, and we all had unlimited data and smartphones with cameras. Even then, I only ever made 1 video call: to a workmate to see that it worked. IMO the concept only took off once people’s mums got smartphones.

  21. @Vgp-rp4iu

    May 10, 2024 at 4:50 pm

    I mean it definitely sucks but me and my girlfriend could have had alot of fun back in the day.

  22. @Ceelvain

    May 10, 2024 at 5:52 pm

    To whomever might be interested, the text surrounding the picture at 7:57 translates as follow:
    Top text: “How will our great nephews live in the year 2012”
    Bottom text: “Hello my child… We’re sending you your “LOMBART CHOCOLATE” through the indian aircraft”

  23. @bjy128

    May 10, 2024 at 5:59 pm

    I wonder if the “video”/Still that you received was distorted do to some audio compression from your cellphone or the landline to cellphone converter. I remember playing with something similar at The Sharper Image at a Mall back in the 80s.

  24. @user-ql6qg7bh3p

    May 10, 2024 at 7:52 pm

    Women prefer texts now…we’ve reverted back to the telegram

  25. @5nowChain5

    May 10, 2024 at 8:36 pm

    Nope, the first facetime (pre) prototypes were created and used in Gerry Anderson SPACE 1999 TV series. The Handheld communicators. in 1972

  26. @banksuvladimir

    May 11, 2024 at 12:18 am

    I remember back when “video phones” were something that was considered as out of reach and impractical as flying cars are just because of the cost and bandwidth of everyone having their own personal little tv channel.

    Boy did that change

  27. @3DJapan

    May 11, 2024 at 4:26 am

    You know it’s OK to call it video calling right? Nobody will punish you.

  28. @3DJapan

    May 11, 2024 at 4:32 am

    Fun fact: they could send photos over phone lines in the 1930s. That’s how newspapers got photos for a story from across the country.

  29. @colinsphoneemail

    May 11, 2024 at 5:04 am

    I found it very difficult to communicate with my blind date with sign language then on this.

  30. @guidohavelton6280

    May 11, 2024 at 9:19 am

    5:15 I remember back in the day sometimes you would misdial and accidentally call someone’s fax machine line and get this same noise

  31. @TedSeeber

    May 11, 2024 at 10:41 am

    You can recognize faces and read body language?

  32. @ericcarabetta1161

    May 11, 2024 at 1:49 pm

    I still hate video phones. There’s almost nothing I hate more than getting a surprise FaceTime call.

  33. @DurpMustard

    May 11, 2024 at 3:58 pm

    Thanks to Apple it still costs thousands of dollars to buy a device that can natively run FaceTime

  34. @JuanWonOne

    May 11, 2024 at 4:49 pm

    *beep boop* algo food

  35. @pixelitchio

    May 11, 2024 at 4:49 pm

    the matrix is real; the future appeared to the mind of even the laughers; and this video appeared from nowhere decades after seeing those scifi videophones and wondering how they came to be. Strangely, cellphones never felt like the continuation; the design, maybe, and its multiples options

  36. @robertgaines-tulsa

    May 12, 2024 at 2:07 am

    When a video phone has 96p and a GameBoy has 144p, a GameBoy kind of looks like high resolution. The video phone has 8 times the monochrome depth, but I doubt it mattered that much when you already couldn’t tell what was on the screen.

  37. @appliedengineering4001

    May 12, 2024 at 3:10 am

    In case you’re not aware. The reason the pictures on those Visitel units came through corrupted is because cell phones use compression in the voice channel to save bandwidth. This compression is optimized for voice traffic and if you try to send a modem signal through it, it will become corrupted. The same is true for fax, dial-up modems, alarm systems and credit card machines. I know this because about 10 years ago, I bought one of those bluetooth to landline converter (like what you showed in the video) for a business to run their landline based CC machine from their cell phone and it never worked.

  38. @coolbro8922

    May 12, 2024 at 6:52 am

    That explains why I thought Skype was first… and that texting began on AOL.

  39. @NielsNL68

    May 12, 2024 at 1:05 pm

    I did see this back at the time in the dutch Telephone store. It was just some years after Robocop was released, where the shown a videophone. Back then i was already knowledgeable about computers and electronics etc. And knowing the fastest modems where. At first i was interesting to have but the cost and the way it worked my interest was dampened very fast as well.
    I belief for sure when the technic was much better at that time the videophones would had more interest then it did. The landline was never suitable for this kind of communication. Maybe when ISDN was introduced it would have had some change of success, but i think the negative sentiment was already to big to try it again, may be. The bigger companies did not dear to try it again to reintroduce. I know there where some Corporate Solutions between B2B’s etc. But for the normal user, i cant remember of there was something to use. Other then using PC Software etc.

  40. @henryisnotafraid

    May 12, 2024 at 1:14 pm

    Being able to video chat only became common recently I would say like since it became easier for me to do it in 2018. I’m sure for others it was earlier and I’m sure for some others it was even much earlier but high speed internet believe it or not is still not real common across the US.

  41. @JohnJones-oy3md

    May 12, 2024 at 1:29 pm

    1980’s era crank call dick pics on your land line would have been a thing had these taken off.

  42. @MultiRobotnik

    May 12, 2024 at 2:10 pm

    Looks like an iMac G3.

  43. @joshjones3408

    May 12, 2024 at 4:24 pm

    Werthers greased finger’s 😆😆😆😆

  44. @safetinspector2

    May 12, 2024 at 4:55 pm

    These were once used by house arrest services! There was a house arrest company in Eastpoint, Michigan that had a bunch in parolee’s homes. A modified 486 server would call each of them up randomly. The parolee would have to pose in front of the camera and blow into a breathalyzer. The server would take a photo and store it for the parole officer to review. I heard the company that designed it had purchase a warehouse full of these at a huge discount which made the system affordable.

  45. @Bcarr122391

    May 12, 2024 at 9:46 pm

    Growing up, my little brother (who is about 5 years younger than me) would try to show me stuff through the landline phone. “Look at this Brandon”. I always thought he was crazy. Maybe he was a time traveler. 😂

  46. @aetheralmeowstic2392

    May 13, 2024 at 12:01 am

    RING RING RING, RING RING RING! Phone call! Phone call! RING RING RING, RING RING RING! Phone call! Phone call!

  47. @kriscerosaurus

    May 13, 2024 at 2:59 am

    I have never used video calling outside of professional setting. Hell, I don’t even like calling if texting will suffice, so I absolutely don’t want to be perceived for a phone call.

  48. @XXX-XX-X-X

    May 13, 2024 at 4:09 pm

    $90 a minute? Maybe flying through space? Certainly not a grainy zoom call. 😅

  49. @FuelTheConqueror

    May 13, 2024 at 4:50 pm

    Cool stuff 😎

  50. @DFowleezy

    May 14, 2024 at 9:17 am

    So you didn’t even come close to 50 shades of gray.

  51. @ChrisHarmon1

    May 14, 2024 at 9:47 am

    People still criticize those at the forefront today. The media’s relationship with Elon Musk is a perfect example. I am amused they had a “punch magazine”, which makes me think of mads magazine.

  52. @otherssingpuree1779

    May 14, 2024 at 1:45 pm

    I see Vsauce 2, I click.

  53. @JustWasted3HoursHere

    May 14, 2024 at 3:10 pm

    Calling in to work sick would be much more of an acting session with a video phone.

  54. @rimhellworth8614

    May 14, 2024 at 3:52 pm

    I’d imagine AI is going through the exact same thing right now

  55. @lastnamefirstname8655

    May 14, 2024 at 4:12 pm

    they’re ahead of their times.

  56. @Tiberius22495

    May 14, 2024 at 4:15 pm

    the way that this device sends a image reminds me of slow scan tv (sstv) that is still active in HAM Radio.

    • @scaleop4

      May 19, 2024 at 3:44 pm

      was thinking the same thing.

  57. @imark7777777

    May 14, 2024 at 5:55 pm

    haha meanwhile here in 2024 we have apples FaceTime Nettwerk zooms net work that defunct Skype net work and then sends whatever Microsoft’s calling it now Nettwerk and we can’t even get text messages to interoperate. And everybody keeps pushing towards segmented things like all the streaming services that keep popping up for their own unique content but then gets pulled off of the other services.

  58. @MarshaCollier

    May 14, 2024 at 7:14 pm

    I actually bought two of these so my daughter and I could talk to her Grandma in Florida. I set it up for her when I was on a visit. When we got home, we were never able to receive a picture. Why? My mother didn’t want us to see her without make up. To her it was more of an intrusion than a communication device. But at least she could see the pictures that we sent.

  59. @tschak909

    May 14, 2024 at 8:57 pm

    This tech was purchased from Atari Inc. in 1984 after Jack Tramiel bought the company from Warner and sold off everything except the home computer division. (it was one of the planned products from the AtariTel division)

    • @TheJeremyHolloway

      May 17, 2024 at 4:30 pm

      Warner sold AtariTel to Mitsubishi prior to selling the assets of Atari Inc’s Consumer Division to Jack Tramiel’s TTL company [which renamed itself as the Atari Corporation] and the majority stake of the Atari Coin [arcade] division – the original Atari – to Namco. Atari Coin renamed itself as the Atari Games Corporation and used the “Tengen” sub-brand in the consumer market since they could only use the Atari name on their arcade games.

  60. @oldmoviesinbwwithsubtitles3501

    May 14, 2024 at 10:22 pm

    I had this back in 92

  61. @oldmoviesinbwwithsubtitles3501

    May 14, 2024 at 10:27 pm

    Punch was a great magazine from England.

  62. @JustSomeAsianDude

    May 15, 2024 at 12:53 am

    Why do you look so much like Kevin from Vsauce and sound like him sort of too?😂😂

  63. @desklaser

    May 16, 2024 at 2:56 am

    The “brown splatter” is probably just the paint/ink coming off the cardboard.

  64. @malixcrash4126

    May 16, 2024 at 2:24 pm

    I love how this original video phone is just a fax machine with extra steps

  65. @KentuckyRanger

    May 16, 2024 at 8:08 pm

    It was so funny, when I was a kid, I remember all the hoopla over video phones.
    Problem was, it was just a goofy thing, that only Dick Tracy used, LOL!
    The prospect of video phone calls, was, well, dumb…
    Even today, my iPhone, while it has the capability of video calls, I’ve only used it once, to show my wife something at the store, LOL!
    It was a feature, nobody really wanted then, and really don’t use it much now.

  66. @twistidclowns

    May 17, 2024 at 2:32 pm

    The retro future was great but the current future kinda sucks, just because I have a cell phone doesn’t mean im always available.

  67. @shaider1982

    May 17, 2024 at 8:13 pm

    8:35 sounds like present day people’s reaction to LL. AI like ChatGPT

  68. @jimbotron70

    May 18, 2024 at 7:15 am

    Kubrick came first. Space:1999 second.

  69. @HumblElephant

    May 18, 2024 at 11:34 am

    Incredible production that was still so informative + entertaining – great upload

  70. @VSteam81

    May 18, 2024 at 7:59 pm

    get this man out! he doesnt need to be trapped inside!!! (just kidding lol)

  71. @diyeana

    May 18, 2024 at 9:05 pm

    What would I pay $90/minute for? To go into space. For 5 minutes.

  72. @Olkv3D

    May 19, 2024 at 12:20 am

    AT&T had also released one called the VideoPhone in the early 90’s

  73. @maaadkat

    May 19, 2024 at 10:26 am

    I have the same view on talking to devices. Cortana’s amazing success demonstrates that I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to talk to my PC. I barely ever talk to Google if at all. People I talk to say they rarely use Siri. Alexa is useful only because it avoids having to clean hands or otherwise make room to perform a few simple functions – if I’m stood by the light switch it’s easier to just hit the light switch than to shout an instruction into the ether.

  74. @jatigre1

    May 19, 2024 at 3:06 pm

    “all the way back in the 70’s… the 1870’s. ” No apostrophe, please.

  75. @cannibalbananas

    May 19, 2024 at 4:46 pm

    Who didn’t want video phones? Cuz I know I’m happy they exist. You lose so much in words alone – both spoken and written. Body language, and seeing the other person is so important to communication imo, especially when you miss someone. It’s as close to having them in the room w/ you as we can get right now. Letters take forever, emails get left unopened, and texts are are quick and sometimes impersonal.
    Personally, I can’t wait for hologram calls… that or true teleportation so I can just visit family and friends that don’t live nearby.

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