So Santa couldn’t fit that Smart TV you were after down the chimney but you still like the idea of adding a few extra functionalities to your existing box? Then perhaps the telyHD is what you’re looking for. Clearly its primary purpose is to act as a Skype camera that plugs in to any HDMI equipped TV but there’s also a web browser and an optional upgrade for business use that opens up a few extra features. In addition to the various Smart PVRs and Blu-ray players in the market, we’re seeing a growing number of Android powered devices with no other purpose than to smarten up your existing setup so the telyHD will need to perform well to justify its £229 price point in a market where sub £50 USB smart dongles are increasingly rife, although it is something of a unique product, so far as we are aware. Time to brush our hair and get sat in front of the TV - lights…camera…action!
Design and Connections
We’d imagine most of you are familiar with the concept of a webcam by now so the design of the telyHD shouldn’t be anything too shocking, although it’s a little larger than the average and more akin, dimensionally speaking, to Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral for Xbox 360. In fact, in width, it’s nigh on identical to Kinect but it is a little more bulky so it’s not going to perch unobtrusively on top of the TV and if clean lines and clutter-free is a priority, you’re probably not going to like it. That said, the unit feels very well engineered and the design of the clamp that attaches it to the top of your TV is excellent, allowing you to secure it effortlessly to just about every flat panel out there, thanks to the adjustable ‘foot’ that rests on the back. As an aside, the telyHD is also beautifully packaged in a gloss white box with foam protection so it all should arrive safely in one piece. It’s not often that we feel compelled to mention such matters but it does add to the feeling you’re buying a quality product.
At the rear of the telyHD is a mini HDMI connection to use with the supplied cable that then fits in to a free port on your TV or AV Receiver; there’s also a SD Card slot, a USB connection and a LAN port although the unit does feature built-in Wi-Fi should you rather not have any additional wiring running up the back of your TV. The SD card slot and USB ports are intended for the photo sharing feature but that only works if other people in the call are using a telyHD which is disappointingly limiting, if understandable. The remote handset supplied is very simple, consisting of some navigation buttons to scroll through menus, an OK/Selection key plus Menu and End Call buttons. If you want to use the built-in Chrome browser, you will need to download the Smart Remote app for iOS or Android for your mobile device of choice. More on which later.
Setup and Menus
Besides the option of using the clamp to attach the telyHD to your TV, other installation alternatives include placing it on a shelf or affixing to a standard camera tripod. The manufacturers do state that for optimal performance the TV mounting choice is the one to pick but provided the shelf is near to the TV and of a similar height to the top of it, that option worked well; we can’t imagine many home users will want to have a tripod standing next to their TV, however. Once you do have it placed and fired up the telyHD presents the user with a quick set up wizard governing language selection, network connection and Skype account settings. It’s all very simple and you should be up and running in next to no time.
The user interfaces of the telyHD are nicely presented and very snappy to navigate with the Menu Button of the remote control bringing up various options depending on whether you’re engaged in a call or on the ‘Home’ carousel menu. On pressing the button a menu bar appears at the bottom of the screen. Choices when not in a call are, the self-explanatory, Messages, Call Log, ‘show online contacts only’ (or otherwise), Skype Status (Away, Do Not Disturb etc), Web Browser and Sign Out.
Rather less explicit is the Settings option from where a whole host of adjustments can be made. In the User Settings sub-menu one can choose custom backgrounds and sounds as well as designating various privacy, security and operational options. Device Settings allow for such things as Ringer Volume, Screen Size, Date and Time Settings and whether to allow AirPlay enabled devices to display their contents to the TV the telyHD is plugged in to. From here, one can also activate the Business Edition upgrade (additional cost paid, of course) and change Network settings.
For anyone accustomed to Skype usage – and with up to 45 million online at any one time, that’s going to be a lot of you – operation of the telyHD will be very simple. We would advise that anyone new to Skype sets up their account on a PC first, as using an on-screen keyboard to add and search for new contacts does get laborious very quickly, although the option of plugging a USB keyboard in to the unit does exist. For presumably the same reason, it is not possible to use Skype with the telyHD as an instant messaging application.
It is possible to utilise the telyHD as a microphone only device, let’s face it we can’t look our best all the time, but we can’t imagine that many will use it that way so the video quality of the unit is paramount in importance and it is very passable. It’s particularly impressive with colour fidelity but don’t go expecting it to mimic the 720p you’re used to via your TV as the filters are clearly not of a very high quality. There are options to improve your picture for other participants in the call by adjusting contrast (called Lighting Adjustments), zoom and tilt but even in quite low light conditions we found the camera to deliver clear images of sufficient size at default settings. The user guide does suggest utilising the TVs Game picture mode but we have mixed feelings about that. Whilst we can understand why they advise it – to minimise latency and improve lip sync – most Game modes in TVs are unspeakably awful in terms of picture quality, at default settings, so we’d advise some experimentation as to whether you’re better able to tolerate a touch more lag against over-sharp, over-bright and over-saturated versions of your family or friends being displayed on your TV.
Calling a contact really couldn’t be made any easier – choose via carousel and hit the Selection Button - and once in-call a number of other options are made available from the Menu Button. One can mute their microphone, switch to audio only, hold/resume or end a call and change the screen layout to give more or less room to your own image or that of the other caller. There is also the option of being able to share photos from USB or SD Card storage but that feature only works when in conversation with another telyHD user and since there aren’t that many of those at the moment, we’ll take them on their word that it actually works. We do actually find it a touch disappointing that the option to share files with non-telyHD callers doesn’t exist but it’s obviously a limitation of the embedded software.
The included web browser, powered by Google, is quite good, particularly if that’s your browser of choice on other devices as it’s then possible to access the likes of your gmail or YouTube accounts. We found it rock solid for streaming and playing embedded video so that means the user can happily watch from services such as BBC iPlayer, LOVEFiLM or Netflix but we would recommend using a wired connection if you plan on accessing any HD content. In the case of the Android version of the app, at least, we encountered crashes when trying to access the Settings or More tabs which meant we couldn’t view our Bookmarks or use the services not listed in the main bar at the top, which was a bit frustrating but then it’s not clear whether it was possible to sync all of the account and settings across to the telyHD in the first place. The app could use the option to speed up the responsiveness of the scrolling, too, as it does feel very pedestrian at times.
We’re left with somewhat mixed feelings about the domestic application of the telyHD. On the one hand it’s just about the only show in town if you want to add Skype functionality to a non-Smart TV but, on the other hand, it is rather expensive and unsightly and if you have a half decent laptop, you could simply purchase a webcam of comparable quality for a lot less money, move it in to the living room whilst you make that call and have a much greater degree of flexibility. Perhaps that’s missing the point on the convenience front but that’s what we’d do.
Whilst we’re more interested by its use in the home, we will make mention that the telyHD offers the option to upgrade to the Business Edition with a choice of two tiers of pricing. For $249.99 per year users are then able to participate in video calling with 2 other participants, provided they’re also subscribed. For $499.99 per year, the number of video callers increases to 6 and are users able to share their desktops so a useful tool for looking at spreadsheets, slide presentations etc. collaboratively. Again all users will need to be subscribed to a telyHD account, although it doesn’t matter which plan they are on. There’s an elephant in the room here, of course, in the shape of Skype itself. For $4.99 a month Skype allows up to 10 users in a video conference and group screen sharing, adds in instant messaging and free phone calls to a nominated country. Since we’ve had to deal in dollars for the purposes of comparison we’ll just say, ‘you do the math’.
UPDATE: We've now been supplied with UK pricing by TelyHD and it is a slightly different model to that in the US. For those that want the 6-way multi party video calling the price is £499 followed by an annual £199 subscription for the Business Edition. The basic price, i.e. without business edition, and therefore no multi-video chat, is £249 which we still think might put a few off.
- Easy to use
- Well constructed
- Good audio and video quality
- Web browser is quite impressive
- You might think it looks ugly on top of your TV
- Browser app can be frustratingly slow
- Skype premium
telyHD Skype Camera for HDTV Review
There’s no doubting the neatness and proficiency in the design of the telyHD. It’s well engineered, sturdy and very easy to secure on the top of any flat panel TV. Whether you’ll want the tely’s fairly bulky proportions adorning your TV on a permanent basis is a matter of taste but, much like the resident Kinect sensor we have in situ, we’d prefer to keep it hidden when not in use although that probably defeats the object of it at a stroke. Connectivity is good, with built-in Wi-Fi the obvious star and it’s useful that the unit comes equipped with a mini HDMI cable. The nifty little remote makes scrolling through the telyHD’s attractive and snappy menus a breeze and the simplicity of operation and interface, in general, will mean novice users shouldn’t get lost. We would, however, recommend setting up a new Skype account by PC first as using the onscreen keyboard becomes tiresome quite quickly.
Once setup, making and receiving calls was a doddle. The quality of audio and video was also good, even if the promise of 720p may not be quite all it seems. Still, by webcam standards, it is an impressive performer but then it needs to be when priced at the £229 mark. For considerably less, however, one could purchase a USB webcam of comparable quality and just plug that in to a laptop. That would lack the convenience factor, to a degree, but perhaps that’s offset by the lack of extra wiring and (arguably) unsightly appendage to your TV. Perhaps what does make this a more enticing prospect is the inclusion of a well featured browser that is controlled by an app for your Android or iOS device. The browser is powered by Google which means the ability to access the likes of your gmail and YouTube account from the TelyHD is very straightforward. On the downside, scrolling using the touchscreen of your mobile devices feels sluggish and we encountered crashes when accessing the Settings and More tabs.
The telyHD is a pretty niche device. If you really want Skype video calling through your non-capable HDTV then it’s just about the only show in town and it performs that task well. That doesn’t come at an inconsiderable cost, however, so some thought on just how much you want that facility is well advised. It’s not a product we would choose, at this time, but given a substantial price drop, one that could catch on.
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