Created By: SeanMurrayI on January 27, 2011 Last Edited By: SeanMurrayI on January 29, 2011
Troped

Video Phone

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An extremely common trope found in any stories told in future or high-tech settings, 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 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 is one that has been made possible and is slowly becoming more commercially available around the world (although it's not very likely to ever see as much prevalent usage in our world as it does in fiction).

Being a dream invention in the telecommunication industry for decades, Video Phones in future settings occasionally allow for Product Placement spots for companies that have invested in creating such technologies.

Compare: Comm Links, for another Sci-Fi phone equivalent. See Also: Cell Phone, Pay Phone, and Phone Booth for more contemporary uses.

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

Anime and Manga
  • These showed up almost everywhere in early seasons of Pokémon.
  • Cowboy Bebop's in-universe equivalent to the cell phone uses video feeds on both ends of a call.

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.

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.

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 Steam Punk version.

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.

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.
  • 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
  • Apple's iPhone allows for two people with the phone to engage face-to-face calls, incorporating both the device's camera and speaker phone capabilities, when both operators are connected to Wi-Fi.
  • 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.
  • Skype allows users to make voice calls over the Internet, and users with web cams can send a video feed with their calls.

Needs More Examples, Rolling Updates, Seen It a Million Times, Do We Have This?
Community Feedback Replies: 40
  • January 27, 2011
    ArtyMorty
    Would conversations on the big Screen on any Star Trek bridge count as well?
  • January 27, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    ^I'd say it would be related but would probably see enough overlap with The Big Board for it to merit being its own trope (something akin to Hank Scorpio on The Simpsons threatening the UN Security Council in a conversation over large screen monitors).
  • January 27, 2011
    fulltimeD
    Film example: Until The End Of The World. They also take credit cards.
  • January 27, 2011
    TBTabby
    The Jetsons has them.
  • January 27, 2011
    Aries
    Early seasons of Pokemon had them everywhere.
  • January 27, 2011
    thegrenekni3t
    Here's an old abandoned YKTTW for Video Phone that you could take examples from.
  • January 27, 2011
    thegrenekni3t
    Also, is there a trope for, like, Universal Video Phone--that thing where sometimes a person with a video phone will be able to see the person at the other end even if they don't have a video phone, or where people have a video conversation and the phone is in the picture? I'm sure I saw a YKTTW for something like that once, but I can't seem to find it.
  • January 27, 2011
    fulltimeD
    live Action TV Examples:

    We might want to note that the Video Phone was popular in SF settings largely without cell phones even after cell phones became commonplace in Real Life
  • January 27, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    ^^^Wow, thanks a lot!

    ^^This YKTTW is already covering the latter (with ordinary telephone receivers used in conjunction with viewing screens).

    ^A Hologram phone should likely be its own trope, if it isn't one already.
  • January 27, 2011
    Lysythe
    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.
  • January 27, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    Also, if anyone has a cool picture that can demonstrate this trope in a fun way, I'll love to include it here.
  • January 27, 2011
    fulltimeD
  • January 27, 2011
    Scooter007
    may be related to Hollywood Web Cam

    More Live Action TV examples:
  • January 27, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    ^Is Hollywood Web Cam supposed to be about Web Cams used as telecommunications devices or web cameras with HD quality video appearing in fiction?
  • January 27, 2011
    RockTallBull
    I remember Tenchi Muyo GXP had the protagonist (can't remember his name and my tabs tend to crash.) called his best-friend from space. The video feed was one-way, but the caller could see the receiver scratching himself and then looking for the reciever when said scratching is jokingly pointed out.
  • January 28, 2011
    foxley
    A video phone appears in the 1929 silent movie High Treason, making this at least Older Than Television.
  • January 28, 2011
    Insubordinate
    I think the communication devices in Cowboy Bebop might qualify. They're the in-universe version of cell phones, and using them involves talking to the screen (and video feeds on both ends, which - if I remember correctly - are optional).
  • January 28, 2011
    bluepenguin
    I read a short story once that was a sci-fi variation on the old "soldier asks parents if they'd take in a friend who lost a limb, parents say no, soldier kills herself because she's actually the one who lost a limb" story. In the setting, all phones were videophones and the soldier in question had turned off the video feed on the one she was using so as not to alert them to her condition.
  • January 28, 2011
    Duncan
    • Austin Powers has one in his car. Very helpful for Basil Exposition to talk to him.
    • Alan Ayckbourn's sci-fi play Henceforward features a videophone- though it's never answered, people just leave messages.
  • January 28, 2011
    krssven
    These are used in Total Recall a lot. In the film talking to someone on Mars was as easy as phoning them up on Earth.
  • January 28, 2011
    TooBah
    Used in Aliens, for instance right after Ripley's nightmare at the beginning.
  • January 28, 2011
    Scooter007
    @Sean Murray I: the latter; HWC is about how such devices are depicted on-screen, not merely their presence. I mentioned it only because most instances of Video Phone I've seen use some of the techniques I mentioned in that other YKTTW. Of course, if the video phone is sufficiently advanced tech, it's justifiable.
  • January 28, 2011
    randomsurfer
    They appear in Demolition Man. Sylvester Stallone gets a wrong number from a topless chick.
  • January 28, 2011
    Grug
    One showed up in Batman Beyond.
  • January 28, 2011
    ElaineRose
    Warehouse 13 has a very steampunk version
  • January 28, 2011
    Aminatep
    Videophones or just any realtime videocommunication?

    Because, duh, isn;t any notebook with Skype a videophone?
  • January 28, 2011
    ElaineRose
    I believe every Star Trek franchise had some form of instant video communication--though "small handheld device to small handheld device" might be a bit more of a recent addition.
  • January 28, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    ^I'm aware of the traditional Comm Links on Star Trek shows, but I don't remember any form of video communication apart from hails from other ships and planets (and something which I believe should make for a separate trope).
  • January 28, 2011
    SomeSortOfTroper
    Considering we now have these IRL, shouldn't we probably have a line asking for no 3rd Millenium examples?

  • January 28, 2011
    EponymousKid
    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.
  • January 29, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    ^^I'd modify that to mean "no examples from works taking place in contemporary, present day settings, and only list such technologies as Real Life examples," but yeah.

    A story taking place in the future that was created in the past decade (or still some decades to come) could probably still count because the technology isn't exactly totally omnipresent for all of us who use phones in Real Life yet, but at some point in the future this likely will change.
  • January 29, 2011
    EponymousKid
    It's probably important to note that videophones are extremely unlikely to ever see widespread use in real life due to a number of factors, though.
  • January 29, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    ^Very true, but using existing technologies for how they are intended to be used in contemporary, present day settings is very much People Sitting On Chairs all the same and not worth including in examples.
  • January 29, 2011
    EponymousKid
    I meant simply mentioning it in the write-up/description. It's certainly relevant.
  • January 29, 2011
    MCE
    NCIS uses videophones between departments and satellite video conversations that are oddly free from lag and picture break up. (but this is based on present day technology, not sure if it counts)

    Deus Ex Invisible War has the holographic equivalent of video phones.

    Do Star Wars holographic calls count?
  • January 29, 2011
    MetaFour
    • 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.
  • January 29, 2011
    EponymousKid
    MCE: ...You know, that's an interesting question. It also makes me wonder if Star Trek "on screen" conversations and such would qualify.
  • January 29, 2011
    Fiwen9430
    Used in Metropolis.
  • January 29, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    ^^As I've said (I think) twice already, that's so much more of a cross between this and The Big Board that it's more deserving of being its own trope.
  • January 29, 2011
    Sheora
    Robert A Heinlein's novels had these as a standard part of future technology.
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