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Videophone

''It was a perennial technology of the future...But then out of nowhere the videophone was suddenly just here."
Paleofuture blog at Smithsonian.com

An extremely common trope found in any stories told in future or high-tech settings (and, to a lesser extent, spy and espionage stories), 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 (and the audience) 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 has been publicly available in one form or another since 1936; the German government ran public videophone booths prior to WWII, though these early trial services were disrupted by the war. AT&T opened the first public videophone booth in the US in 1964.

Despite this constant attention and the relative simplicity of the technology involved (Alexander Graham Bell himself talked about the possibility), lack of consumer interest kept it from going anywhere; the honest truth was that it seemed that despite all the sci-fi attention it received, the public didn't really want videophones, at least not at any significant price. They only became broadly successful in the modern era once they could be cheaply integrated into existing computer technology, and even then, many would argue they remain little more than a novelty outside of the porn business.

Compare: Comm Links, for another Sci-Fi phone equivalent. See Also: Pay Phone and Phone Booth for more contemporary uses. For a breakdown on how such devices tend to operate in fiction, see Hollywood Web Cam.

Note: Given this trope's increased existence in Real Life, please refrain from listing work examples that use existing technologies in contemporary, early 21st century 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

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • These show up almost everywhere a regular phone would in Pokémon.
  • Commonly used in the original Bubblegum Crisis. Most notably, they had video payphones.
  • Cowboy Bebop's in-universe equivalent to the cell phone uses video feeds on both ends of a call.
  • Some were seen in Neon Genesis Evangelion.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Aramaki is talking via wallscreen to a contact. Although the screen shows the man in military uniform, he's actually in a bathrobe cutting his toenails.

    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.
  • Marvel 2099 takes it to the next stage with the holo-phone. The first issue of Spider-Man 2099 opens with Miguel checking his messages:
    Gabriel: Hi, Miguel, it's me.
    Miguel: I know it's you, Gabe. Holo-phone, remember?

    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. He also uses a public vidphone at Taffey Lewis' bar to place a call to Rachael, which is hilarious because a) public telephones barely exist anymore, let alone vidphones and b) it costs a ridiculous amount for a call that barely lasts one minute.
  • 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. At the end, it indicates a call from the Moon to the Earth, taking several minutes, costs a mere $1.85. As so many others, the call is sponsored by AT&T.
  • In Starship Troopers, Johnny Rico is talking to his parents in Buenos Aires via Video Phone when the Bug asteroid hits the city.. This call is also sponsored by AT&T.
  • 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 make contact with the last surviving enclave of humans on Earth, as well as Great Guidance on the planet Ro-Man.
  • These are used in the original 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.
  • Aliens. Burke leaves My Card in case Ripley changes her mind about going on the mission to find out what happened to the colony on LV426. After her next Catapult Nightmare, Ripley sticks the card in her videophone where it automatically connects her to a sleepy Burke.
  • 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.
  • Spaceballs:
    Barf: I'll just put it on audio. That way they won't see ya. (activates a switch) 'Yello.
    Vinnie: (appearing on video screen) Hello, Lone Starr.
    Barf: Sorry, wrong switch.
    • Also when President Skroob is in the toilet and the mirror in front of him suddenly turns into a wallscreen. He is not amused, especially when his female Number Two tricks him into exposing himself while giving the Spaceball salute.
  • Some of the only dialogue in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times comes from the factory boss pestering people via videophone, including when poor Charlie tries to take a badly needed break.
    "Hey! Get back to work!"
  • The interocitor in This Island Earth counts.
  • Spoofed in the second Airplane movie. Someone on the moonbase turns on a screen and after some static and wavy lines appear is able to get through to William Shatner. There's a brief conversation, then Shatner opens the door in front of him to reveal he was talking to the man through a window.
  • In Casino Royale (1967) movie David Niven gets Vesper on the video Shoe Phone while she's getting dressed. She indignantly covers the camera until she hears Niven signing off, only to remove her hand to see Niven looking downwards expectantly.
  • Seven Days in May. The White House and Pentagon use video teleconferencing in their Twenty Minutes into the Future world.
  • Project Moonbase. The female President of the United States speaks to the brave astronauts who've just landed on the moon via a hole in the wall.
  • The Crazies (original). A video link is set up with the President of the United States so he can, if required, authorize the use of nuclear weapons to contain the virus. As the President spends the entire conversation sitting with his back to the camera, one wonders why George Romero didn't just have him talking over a telephone speaker.
  • In 1935's Transatlantic Tunnel, video phones are accepted as standard communication.
  • Star Wars have holo graphic technology that transmit a full body image of who's talking.
  • Played with in The Osterman Weekend. A Coincidental Broadcast (actually a video feed) on the illicit use of Swiss bank accounts appears on television as part of the Mind Screw tactics being used against an alleged ring of traitors. At one point the CIA agent in charge uses the video feed to speak directly to the protagonist (who is working for him), only to have an Oh, Crap moment when the link won't turn off when someone else enters the room. The CIA man then pretends he's an anchorman giving a news report.

    Literature 
  • These are a standard part of future technology in Robert A. Heinlein's novels.
  • Mocked in a passage in Infinite Jest which describes how widespread videophone use made people increasingly concerned about their physical appearance, leading to most people wearing elaborate masks whenever they used the phone (and, later, just switching back to normal phones).
  • The Alice, Girl from the Future series sees all characters use these—and only these—phones.
  • The Ear, the Eye and the Arm has "holo-phones", owned by all but the most destitute characters.
  • A minor plot point in Shepherd Mead's The Big Ball Of Wax is that by "now" (1999) videophones have colour but aren't stereoscopic — yet. (Some TV game shows operate on a phone-in basis, so this is a minor annoyance to producers and viewers alike.)
  • These are ubiquitous in the Moreau Series
  • These are common in Noon Universe by Strugatsky Brothers. In some occasions characters uses them without turning on video option.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Pee-wee Herman's Picturephone on Pee-Wee's Playhouse played with the idea of "two cans on a string" found on old-fashioned playhouses/treehouses by depicting the receiver as a tin can on a telephone cord. Amusingly, in Pee-Wee's world, everyone has a Picturephone.
  • 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 is equipped with one. KI3T can use the windshield to project a multipart videoconference, to a similar effect.
  • 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 Diesel Punk version, made by and named after Philo Farnsworth, one of the inventors of TV.
  • Seemed commonplace in Robocop The Series.
  • General Beckman's interchanges with the Chuck team mostly happen through one of these, as do liaisons between the 'Castle' and various field operatives.
  • Everyone in Earth: Final Conflict has a Global, a cellphone-sized device with an ejectable touchscreen that allows face-to-face video chats. It is also a GPS and has several other functions. Pretty much a modern smartphone.
  • In the various Star Trek series, the characters communicate with visual communication links as often as they use audio only. The main difference is that in like the Original Series, the crew itself typically communicates with each other with a visual element only when there is something that one of the respondents should see, such as the mysterious probe in "The Corbomite Maneuver."
  • These were one of the few indications that most of the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who stories were meant to be Twenty Minutes into the Future.
  • UFO
    • Multiple examples in the episode "The Dalotek Affair".
      • Commander Straker is called on one of these by Blake, the president of the Dalotek corporation.
      • Commander Straker talks to Colonel Foster on the Moon using one.
      • The Dalotek base on the Moon uses one when Blake calls them.
      • SHADO operatives in the SHADO HQ on Earth and Moonbase on the Moon talk to each other over one.
    • "The Responsibility Seat". Another Moon-Earth conversation, this time between Colonel Foster and Colonel Freeman.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. For Fanservice, B'Elanna Torres has one in her sonic shower for Fanservice, and is understandably annoyed when an impatient EMH calls her there in the episode "Drone".
    "I'm a doctor, not a peeping Tom. It's nothing I haven't seen before."

    Magazines and 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.
  • Mad Magazine once did an article showing pulldown backdrops - a glamorous resort one at a fleabag motel to con clients, a sickroom backdrop at the ballpark for calling your boss, an office one at the bar for calling your wife, and so on...

    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.
  • In Dead Space, Isaac has an ultra hi-tech video phone with a projected holographic screen as part of the RIG suit's Comm Link. While the transmission is monochrome blue in Dead Space, the more advanced systems is Dead Space 2 are in full-color.
    • Fun fact: the videophone's camera location is not Hand Waved like one would expect with a holographic Video Phone. In all communications, it's either on the wrist of the characters, or, more frequently, embedded into one of the nearby walls. Which means that the RIG is constantly on-line with the station/ship that Isaac is on.
  • In the Science Fiction Visual Novel Bionic Heart, video phones are common. Luke is seen using a smaller version in his apartment, then a large-screened version that fills an entire room at his office.
  • Holographic video phones exist throughout the Deus Ex series and seem to be as common as a house phone by the last (chronological) game, Deus Ex: Invisible War.

    Web Original 
  • The Journal Entries has a form commonly used for communicating between organics and androids of organic appearance (and Ken has a standing directive that the AIs managing his end are to put a noticeable image degradation in so that the image isn't uncomfortably real for him). Fixed AIs (for ships, buildings, regions, etc.) usually either just talk as a voice out of the air (most commonly the sky or ceiling, as most organics tend to look upward when speaking to AIs) or use a holographic projection (of the sort of body they would like if they were an organic) as a point of reference.

    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. The drawbacks are sometimes used for laughs such as the women have morning masks which are supposed to be quickly put on in case of calls coming in before they have made themselves up.
  • 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.
  • Videophone technology is available in Futurama; the main characters often also use cellular phones which resemble more modern phones but with built-in video.
  • The title protagonists of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 have "turtle communicators", which resemble flip-top cellphones, only shaped like a turtle shell, and containing a video screen and camera.
  • In ReBoot, this is how most calls are made, either by opening a vidwindow or over a device like Glitch's or Dot's organizer, which includes a 'communicator' among its functions. Voice-only communication is uncommon, but does happen occasionally.
  • Danger Mouse has a video communication wall in his pillar box headquarters. He also has one in his car.

    Real Life 
  • Most laptop computers now come with in-built webcams. Fancy-pants video streaming software turns it into a Video Phone:
  • Pretty much every smartphone allows for two people with the phone to engage face-to-face calls, incorporating both the device's camera and speaker phone capabilities. Interoperability, however, is another matternote .
  • There are several phone apps that allow for video communications regardless of platform or provider, such as Skype for Android/iPhone or Snapchat.
  • Some 3G feature phonesnote  can do video calls, using the ITU 3G video call specification.
  • 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 advertisement campaign with Ellen Page.
  • CUE NET and similar devices.
  • As described in The Other Wiki, the German Reichspost ran a public videophone service in 1936, though it was shut down for WWII.
  • AT&T opened its first public videophone booths in the US — the Picturephone Mod I — in 1964, and was predicting a landline based/dedicated-hardware videophone as late as 1993. These were even on the market for a while in the US, but too few people wanted them for it to be commercially viable in the long term and they mostly just faded away.


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alternative title(s): Vid Phone; Wall Screen Call; TV Phone
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