Videophones & VRS

(Contributed by Corey W., and Jena D.)

Technology: Videophones & VRS

About: His invention allowed for the first patented form of two-way television communication. This device is said to have paved the way for AT&T’s Picturephone and is credited with being the inventor for the videophone.

Inventor: Gregorio Zara

When: Zara had a mind for inventions, having come up with what he called the Zara Effect (physical law of electrical kinetic resistance within electron motion). In 1955, Zara filed a patent for a device called “photo phone signal separator network.”[i]

How It Works: Zara’s design for the Photo Phone Signal Separator works by taking both audio (telephone) signals and real time video signals and sending them over a data-based connection. The signals are sent separately and combined on the receiving line with a slight delay (up to 120 seconds).

Technology: The Picturephone

About: The initial Picturephone was slow, sending only 1 image every 2 seconds. In 1964, AT&T presented the picture phone at The New York’s World Fair. The Picture Phone wasn’t quite as popular as AT&T had expected, but it did become the first widely available model of the picture phone. The technology was also extremely expensive; a couple minutes of your time could cost almost $20 in the 70s. “From a booth set up in Grand Central Terminal, a person could talk to a friend in Chicago or Washington while also seeing them on a small video screen. The friend would also have to go to a special booth in those cities to take a call. The price for the novelty of a three-minute call was $16.”[ii][iii]

Inventor: AT&T

When: The Picturephone was a device created in 1956.

How It Works: The Picturephone allowed two parties to communicate using a combination of video and audio signals so that they have nearly real-time visual communication.


Technology: Video Relay Service (VRS)

Inventor: Multiple Inventors (USA & Sweden) 

When: 1970-80s (USA). Although the technology was experimented with much earlier in the US, the first publically available version of the Video Relay Service was in Sweden in 1997.[iv]

How It Works: Video Relay Service (VRS) is a telecommunication relay system that allows for communication between someone who communicates through sign language and someone who communicates through spoken word. VRS links the 2 communicating parties to a communications assistant who acts as an interpreter for the group. The speaking party communicates a message to the CA who then relays the message to the other person in a way that they can understand.[v]

Technology: Sorenson VRS

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 11.32.14

Inventor: Pat Nola

When: 2002

How It Works: This type of technology allows the deaf users to make a phone call to another deaf users and it is very similar to Skype on webcam but video phone uses television instead. This technology also allows Deaf people to make a video relay call to a hearing person for medical, personal, educational or work purpose. This technology is free and provides 24-hour service, which allows you to place and receive calls with a professional American Sign Language Interpreter via a videophone and a high-speed connection.[1]

Impact on the Deaf Community: Between the invention of the videophone and the video relay services to come about afterwards, the Deaf Community saw huge advancements in the possibilities of face-to-face communication regardless of location. Unlike the invention of the telephone, which was as harmful as it was helpful for the progression of the Deaf in a mainstream society, the videophone had extreme benefits for deaf gain. By allowing multiple deaf parties to communicate across large distances with the sole use of ASL it helps to maintain the integrity of the language rather than enforce a more Oralist approach. It also allowed deaf businesspeople to be an active part of conference calls that they were previously incapable of participating in.

The unfortunate part about the initial (mid-late 50s & early 60s) release of the videophone was its cost. Most private homes would be unable to afford the devices and even many companies would not be able to justify the cost without a large deaf population in their workforce which was not as common in jobs that revolved around telephone communication up to the device’s release. Because of this, it wasn’t until many years later that the technology would be cheap enough to be widely implemented and provide the mass benefits that it was capable of.

After the invention of Sorenson Video Phone product, this product made a huge impact in the Deaf community because it is very accessible for everyone and it is free to everyone to use. The costs associated with the VRS services are paid for by the government under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), which came about in 1990. This act ensures equal telecommunications access for all American citizens, preventing the VRS companies from charging a premium on their services. This type of technology definitely has revolutionized communication for deaf people.[2] The increasing technology in concurrent video and audio transmission has also led to huge innovations in mobile technology and Internet based video chat services.

[1] “Sorenson VRS®.” Sorenson VRS®. Sorenson. Web. 4 Dec. 2014.

[2] “Frequently Asked Questions.” Sorenson VRS®. Sorenson. Web. 4 Dec. 2014.

[i] IBock. “Role Models in Science & Engineering Achievement: Gregorio Zara.” USA Science and Engineering Festival The Blog., 31 Oct. 2012. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

[ii] “AT&T Labs – Innovation – Technology Timeline – Picturephone| AT&T Labs| AT&T.” AT&T Labs – Innovation – Technology Timeline – Picturephone| AT&T Labs| AT&T. AT&T. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

[iii] Darlin, Damon. “How the Future Looked in 1964: The Picturephone.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 June 2014. Web. 4 Dec. 2014.

[iv] Porrero, I. Improving the Quality of Life for the European Citizen: Technology for Inclusive Design and Equality. Amsterdam: IOS, 1998. Print.

[v] “Video Relay Services.” Video Relay Services. FCC. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: