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Comcast to offer Skype video calls

In a new extension combining home communications and social media, Comcast and Skype have announced that some Comcast cable subscribers will soon be able to make HD video phone calls on their TV sets.

Comcast will conduct a trial of the Skype service this year and make it widely available to its customers sometime next year. The companies said the Skype-on-TV feature was part of a “strategic partnership,” but did not share further details or pricing information.

Users will be able to make video calls while watching television. Accepting incoming calls during a TV show with the help of caller ID will also be possible for Comcast customers.

The partnership between Comcast and Skype will help Comcast customers import friends to their address book from their Facebook, Outlook, Gmail and smartphone contact lists, find them on Skype and see when contacts are online and available to talk.

The service will be delivered on the Comcast customers’ HDTV through an adaptor box, a high-quality video camera and a specially designed remote control. It will not be necessary for Comcast customers to use that video camera unless they desire to.

For Comcast, the deal is a way to stay current with viewers’ behavior as they use their TV sets for much more than passive TV watching. For Skype, the deal is a foothold in the millions of homes that are served by Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider. Skype has been acquired by Microsoft, which is said to be interested in further expanding Skype’s presence in homes.

Many cable companies show caller ID information on the TV screen. But the Comcast-Skype deal is one of the first forays of a cable company into video calls. Skype is already embedded in some television sets. The company says it will also be possible to switch Skype conversations from one screen, like a cellphone, to another screen, like a television or tablet computer.