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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 13, 2011 at 3:00 PM

Comcast, Skype connect for HD video calls

Skype’s not acting like a company in flux.

Although it’s in the midst of being acquired by Microsoft, Skype today joined Comcast in announcing a new partnership that will use Skype to provide high-definition video calling to Comcast customers.

The move will extend Comcast’s telecommunication services – it already provides phone service to about 8.5 million customers – at a time when video calling is coming to the TV through a variety of new electronic devices.

Some televisions now have built-in cameras for video calling. It’s also a key feature of Google’s new TV platform and Microsoft’s Kinect controller for the Xbox 360 console.

Comcast will charge a monthly fee for the service, which is entering testing later this year. Customers will receive an adapter box and a camera to mount on the TV, with which they’ll be able to make and receive an unlimited number of video calls for no additional charge.

Skype’s also going to become part of Comcast’s mobile application. Customers will be able to make video and audio calls and send instant messages via Skype on smartphones and tablets.

Pricing and timing of the service hasn’t been determined yet. Comcast is demonstrating it today at a cable industry conference in Chicago.

The service will begin with 720p resolution but plans are to increase it to 1080p, according to Cathy Avgiris, senior vice president and general manager of communication and data services at Comcast.

Avgiris doesn’t expect Microsoft’s pending acquisition of Skype to affect Comcast’s plans. Microsoft on May 10 announced that it’s buying Skype for $8.5 billion in a deal that’s expected to receive regulatory approval by the end of the year.

“From our perspective, we’re full steam ahead,” Avgiris said. “I don’t see any changes. We’ve been working very closely with the Skype team and we’ll continue to work through it.”

Skype spokeswoman Brianna Reynaud declined to comment on how the Comcast service will be affected by the Microsoft deal. “It is business as usual for Skype and we don’t discuss forward looking plans,” she said via email.

Asked if Comcast could also work with Microsoft to provide the Skype service through Xbox 360s, which are used by some cable companies as set-top boxes, Avgiris left open the possibility.

“There are lots of opportunities, lots of possibilities,” she said, adding that first “you’ve got to get the product out to market and make sure it resonates with customers.”

Comcast is still analyzing how to bundle the service. Avgiris said it will need broadband with at least 1.5 megabits per second download speeds but won’t necessarily require subscriptions to Comcast voice and TV services.

“I don’t see it will necessarily be limited to triple play,” she said.

Comments | Topics: Comcast, Microsoft, Skype

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