The 200-Year History Leading To Video Conferencing

From Voice To Live Video

Telecommunication has gone far in the last 200 years. However, moving from voice to video took massive world-changing innovations. A few decades ago, conversing over a blurry picture with someone that wasn’t in the same room was amazing. Today, a call can have 4K resolution with real-time conversations across thousands of people worldwide. 

To appreciate the magic of video conferencing, we need to understand its history. Only then can we value how far we have gone and begin to comprehend how it can change both our personal and professional lives in the future. 

The 1800s: Honor Your Predecessors 

The first significant precursor to video conferencing was the telephone, which Graham Bell patented in 1876. At its core, the telephone is a telecommunication device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation over a distance. The idea of transmitting images and audio over a wire connection came from early telephone technology. It took another 100 years to realize this feat. 

The 1920s: Moving Pictures

The invention of the first successfully demonstrated television was in San Francisco in the late 1920s. Around the same time, the first digital video cameras were also invented. These were the two leaps in technology needed to make video conferencing possible. 

Soon after, the earliest working video broadcast was done by AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories, who managed to broadcast a moving image of the White House from Washington DC to New York. Although it was only a one-way video feed, this was the birth of video telecommunications. 

The 1930s: Two-Way Video

It took until 1931 for AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories to be able to make a two-way video communication connection. A little later, in 1936, a German inventor name Georg Schubert created the first video telephony system named Gegensehn-Fernsprechanlagen. Georg’s system soon made connections hundreds of miles away through transmission lines similar to phone lines. 

1950s: World Fair Videophone Product Launch

By 1959, AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories had a breakthrough in two-way video communication with a clear and stable image transition of one frame every two seconds. During the next few years, they improved on the technology and presented their Picturephone product at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. 

The 1960s: Picturephones For The Home And Office

In the early 1960s, the AT&T Picturephone 2 was available for the mass market but at a high cost. As a result, it soon lost traction and was discontinued a few years after its release. 

The 1980s: Standard Protocols For Faster Adoption

By the 1980s, the first commercial video codec was developed, making video data transfer more efficient. In addition, this was the first time that two-way real-time video and audio calls could be made.  

The 1990s: The Coming Of The Internet Age

The internet boom made today’s version of video conferencing possible. As internet connections spread like wildfire through computers in offices and homes, along came webcams. Soon after came different desktop video conferencing platforms like CU-SeeMe and PictureTel. As the internet got faster (remember dial-up?), more possibilities and better quality video calls could be made. 

The 2000s: Fast Wireless Connection Driving Real-Use

Years later, many of today’s mainstream teleconferencing applications came, such as Skype and Zoom. Then, the introduction of smartphones and 4G internet led to the rise of Facetime, WhatsApp, Google Meet, and Webex. Within a few years, a large selection of teleconferencing solutions for personal and professional use made video conferencing accessible to almost everyone. 

By the middle of the decade, video transfer speeds were fast enough for almost anyone with a webcam or smartphone to live stream their video feeds. Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and Twitch all launched within a few years of each other. As a result, people can now telecast anywhere in the world with a simple handheld device. 

2020: Mass Adoption And Daily Video Conferencing

Over the last few years, video conferencing has become almost a daily necessity. Because of Covid-19, much of the world’s population, whether young, old, rich, or poor, indiscriminately went into lockdown. Everyone had to stay home for months with little to no face-to-face interactions. Kids had to learn to attend school online. Adults needed to shift to work from home. 

Video conferencing became one of the few communication methods that continued to connect humanity. Almost all video communication applications saw massive growth as education, work meetings, entertainment, and personal connections moved to video. 

What Is Next For Video Conferencing?

Now, it seems like we are finally moving back to some form of a new normal. Some people still work from home, but most have transitioned back to the workplace. Video conferencing is still vital in this transition period, as not every team member is fully back. Our application of it in our lives has probably hit its peak. Even the late majority and lagers of the innovation adoption curve have some interaction with video conferencing. The only room for innovation is moderate improvements in the future. The metaverse could be next, and everyone may expect to have meetings in their own virtual world. Another possibility is AR, where we can add more layers of valuable data over our screens. These incremental innovations will continue to drive video conferencing deeper into our lives in new ways. 

Check out how Viewabo, a visual support software, helps businesses see and solve problems for customers over video. Contact us to find out more. Companies like ours have seen the changes video has made in the past and would like to play a part in making the future. In a few years, maybe someone else will be writing about us in the history of video.