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Skype announces embedded TV service and HD video calls

Skype, the Internet telephone service, announced at CES that it will upgrade the resolution of its video calls to accommodate 720p HD — enabling high-definition video conferencing for both personal computers and televisions.

LG Electronics and Panasonic also announced they will add Skype service to their Internet-connected high-definition TVs. Skype-to-Skype voice and video calls will be free, while video calls will require a webcam that is specially designed for the new televisions, with a price tag between $100 to $200.

The webcam allows multiple users to take part in a videoconference and will be flexible enough to work in a living room setting, where the distance between the TV and user may vary. Embedded webcams, along with built-in WiFi and microphones, will likely become standard features if the new service strikes a chord with end users.

The Skype service on a TV will work much as it does on a PC, but with some limitations. A TV program will stop playing once a Skype call is made or answered; TV processors are not yet powerful enough to allow people to chat while they watch a show.

The deals give the newly independent Skype, formerly a division of eBay, another valuable foothold in the home. About 520 million people around the world use the service to place free phone calls and have video chats with one another from their computers and other devices that run Skype software.

Skype makes money by charging competitive rates for people to call regular phone numbers and for add-on services like voicemail.