updated 3/24/2008 1:52:55 PM ET 2008-03-24T17:52:55

Will the HDTV set be the new picturephone? Quanta Computer Inc., a leading contract maker of laptop computers, and OoVoo, a maker of video chat software, are announcing plans Monday to take high-definition videoconferencing to the living room with a gadget that plugs into the HDTV and connects it to the Internet.

Users of the Quanta Video Messenger will be able to hold chats from the comfort of their living rooms with others with the device as well as anyone who is running OoVoo's software on a PC.

It's expected to be available later this year for a price that's affordable for consumers, said OoVoo Chief Executive Philippe Schwarz. A prototype of the gadget, recently displayed at OoVoo's New York headquarters, was the size of a hardback book and had connectors for a high-definition webcam and audio. It was unclear whether the final product will ship with a webcam and mike.

OoVoo is also in early discussions with U.S. phone and cable companies about the possibility of building the videoconferencing function into their set-top boxes, Schwarz said.

Home appliances for videoconferencing have been famously elusive: AT&T demonstrated a picturephone in the 1960s, but no company has managed to crack this market.

Video chatting with software like eBay Inc.'s Skype has become popular on personal computers, but setup can be difficult, since the software needs to interface with a webcam, microphone and loudspeakers or headset. Video quality has been lagging, partly because of limited processing power and partly because home broadband connections generally have low upload speeds.

Meanwhile, companies like Tandberg and Cisco Systems Inc. make high-definition videoconferencing or "telepresence" equipment for corporate customers. The video quality is excellent even at low upstream speeds, but the pricing puts the equipment out of reach of consumers: a Tandberg appliance that turns an HDTV set into a conferencing setup costs $9,520.

The Quanta Video Messenger will support a resolution of 1280 by 720 pixels at 30 frames per second, Schwarz said.

In a demonstration, engineers at Quanta's offices in Taiwan used a prototype of the appliance to connect to a PC in New York running ooVoo's software. On the receiving end, the video quality appeared to be closer to DVD quality than true high definition, and fast movement caused the picture to break up when connected at 512 kilobits per second, a typical upstream speed for a U.S. broadband connection. Doubling the upstream speed improved the image.

Skype has a High Quality Video feature that allows chatters with certain webcams to transmit at a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels, the same as a DVD, at 30 frames per second.

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