Webcams and Video Phones are amazing communication tools. More than just hearing a familiar voice, you can see the face of the person you're talking to, see the sparkle in their eyes, view their reaction to your Incredibly Lame Pun. It's almost like being in the same room with the person on the other end.
In Hollywood, a webcam really is like being in the same room with the other person.
To be fair, most such depictions of the Hollywood Web Cam are easily justified. For example, webcams are commercially available which boast 1080p resolution, justifying the high-res webcam shots usually shown on film. Further, even though in real life many people still have to contend with some noticable lag when using the Internet, this is removed from fiction because the gaps in conversation would be distracting, even annoying. Generally, this trope tends to be averted in horror films, or shows with high-risk stakes, as magically, whenever the webcam is recording someone who has important information, the webcam's shoddiness starts to make itself known.
More difficult to explain away is the common occurrence that the person on the other end of the webcam call will turn her head back and forth when talking to two or more people on this end, as if glancing back and forth between them. In reality, unless she is watching a wall-sized monitor which displays a wide-angle shot of the location she's calling to, this means she's on the other end, turning her head back and forth looking at absolutely nothing.
In a similar vein, if the (non-diagetic) camera is filming the computer from an off angle such as a 3/4 shot, the face on the computer screen will be turned to match that angle (see page image). In reality, this again means that the person on the other end is now looking off to the side, at absolutely nothing. Try walking a large semi-circle around your television during a news broadcast and see if the face on the screen rotates appropriately.
Again, though, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The whole "three-dimensional face on a flat screen" thing is probably an attempt to avoid a trip into the Uncanny Valley. After all, when you walked that semi-circle around your TV (admit it, you did), didn't it look creepy to have that face always looking directly at you? The reason the face doesn't change with the angle is because, of course, it's a flat image; but, although we know intellectually that this is correct, emotionally it just rubs the wrong way. The Hollywood Web Cam solves this by giving us a 3D face on the screen; it's an Acceptable Break From Reality. And this doesn't even take into account any Applied Phlebotinum which can inject a bit of Fridge Brilliance into the procedings.
- Averted in the first Digimon movie: characters chatting via webcam are shown as low-resolution blurs moving at a couple frames per second.
- Done pretty realistically in the My Boyfriend Is a Monster comic "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not". Serena is shown unable to chat with her friend several times because they aren't online at the same time and when they do, both are shown looking at the camera straight-on. There's also a part later where the friend's boyfriend can be heard but not seen by Serena because he keeps out of the way of the webcam.
- Justified in 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which a Video Phone interview between Earth and the astronauts is broadcast on television. The time lag (6 minutes) is mentioned, but it has been edited out specifically for broadcast.
- In the Disney Channel original movie Get a Clue, Lexi communicates with her best friend via one of these. This probably counts as Unbuilt Trope a little because when the movie came out in 2002, most people didn't own a web cam, so they could get away with whatever they wanted. Actually, though, the portrayal was accurate.
- Averted in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, where (in 1996) Basil Exposition communicates via a realistically pixellated webcam view. Fridge Logic sets in when you consider that in 1969 at the start of the film, however, he was able to contact Austin via a crystal-clear portable television setup.
- Parodied in Airplane II: The Sequel, where Moonbase Commander William Shatner talks to a junior officer through a viewscreen on a wall, looking straight at the camera. Then he opens a door in the wall to reveal he was just standing the other side, and not looking at the person he was talking to.
- Averted in Unfriended, which probably boasts the most realistic depiction of a Skype conference call in any film: the resolution is suitably low, there are frequent connectivity problems resulting in compression artefacts, audio is frequently unsynchronized etc.
- Like Unfriended, Host has a pretty accurate depiction of a Zoom session, with connectivity issues, people's faces angled oddly against the webcam, echoes and other mishaps that we have all become familiar with in 2020.
- Special mention goes to an animated Zoom background of one of the characters uses, which she says she made out of boredom and loneliness. Not only will many Zoom users relate to this, it also serves as a plot point. The background obscures the rest of her house, resulting with her friends not noticing she is in trouble. When she finally bursts back into the room and reaches for her laptop, the background animation glitches as it would in a real Zoom call.
- In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon and Leonard are having a webcam conversation with Amy Farrah Fowler, during which her webcam self utilizes most of the points raised in the body of this page.
- More episodes afterwards have avoided the faux-3D aspect by simply filming the computer screen straight on.
- Higher resolution images are common in television advertisements with a "screen images simulated" tag.
- Notable aversion: the E-Trade commercials with the "trading baby" employ a lower-quality webcam image, probably to reinforce the idea that it is a webcam image.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation and later series justifies this trope as a characteristic of the video monitors — namely, that they can display three-dimensional information.
- Averted in the first regular episode of Babylon 5 where a character on a screen yells that he likes to see who he's talking to when Sinclair starts pacing around the room. Played straight throughout the rest of the show where no one ever complains again when a character turns their back to or walks away from a communications screen.
- Averted in Mystery Science Theater 3000, of all places. When Joel/Mike and The Mads communicate, they are conveniently addressing the actual camera. It helps that Cambot, who's handling things on the SoL, is mobile.
- The trope does pop up in The Movie, though.
- Averted in the Attack of the Show! segment The Loop where all interviews are conducted via remote chat. The host and guest are both staring straight into the camera at all times, and there is a noticeable but subtle delay between questions and answers.
- Webcams are used in several episodes of The Good Wife. In one, it was to contact the then-President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez. We are never shown the Chavez's face, as the webcam is, for some reason, always pointing to just below his chest. In another episode, the main characters have to represent their client in a British court while still in their office via a teleconference with a British judge. Besides struggling with the usual differences (e.g. saying "Your Lordship" instead of "Your Honor"), Will commits a major no-no by turning away from the judge and has to apologize profusely.
- Played with in an episode of CSI: NY when the team, in different locations, are speaking together using a Cisco set-up. While there's no lag in the conversation (could be justified as it's a high-end business system), everyone looks straight ahead when speaking, most notably when Stella sees Don speaking to another officer (which we can't hear because the officer is whispering).
- iTeacher from Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide is a teacher that teaches from home via a portable monitor. She occasionally looks to the side away from her webcam to speak to others.
- Most notably at the end of the episode "Popularity & Stress" when she walks into the distance. Even though her monitor still faces the audience, it shows footage of the back of her head for some reason.
- Use of this trope goes all the way back to 1960s Doctor Who. In episodes like "The Wheel in Space" the Second Doctor conversed with characters through video monitors by seemingly looking at them, instead of straight out of the screen. One side-effect of these shots for the children watching at home was that when the Doctor was looking straight out of a monitor screen, he was looking at you. (A subtextual assumption developed that the Second Doctor, at least, could see out of any security monitor he appeared on.)
- Common in Star Wars: The Old Republic with the various sorts of hand-held holocommunicators. A common situation is to have the player walk up to an NPC and that person to call another on holo. The third party is projected from a device in the NPC's hand and usually starts talking to him/her — but will inevitably turn around to talk to the player.
- This was inherited from the movies, more or less, so counts as a film example as well.
- Paranatural: The "looking at the person they're talking to" part is parodied. On Suzy's screen, Collin appears to point a spoon at Dimitri's window and ask "are you okay with this?" When Dimitri answers, Collin clarifies that he was talking to his cat about the food on the spoon.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Holograms look up at the people they're talking to, and even turn around if someone else starts speaking. This is especially notable as the films were pretty good at averting this.
- In one Steven Universe short, Steven communicates via webcam with Peridot, who's looking for an excuse to show off her improvised Internet access rig (a satellite dish taped to a lawnmower). There's a bit of interference, but only for the sake of a gag when Peridot tries to explain how she got her connection to work.