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CES: The Family Flatscreen, Now A 42″ Phone

Kelli B. Grant

Senior consumer reporter and “Deal of Day” columnist Kelli B. Grant travels to Las Vegas to find the best, the worst, and the most hyped gadgets at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Join her as she roams the exhibit floor for three days, with dispatches here and on Twitter @kellibgrant.

Consumers itching to video chat on a grand scale can now do so in high definition on their flat-screen, even if they don’t have one of the new Internet-connected models.

The new Biscotti TV phone is a tiny set-top box containing a camera and microphone. Hooked up to the TV and a home Internet connection, the $199 device allows for unlimited calling anywhere in the world.

Biscotti users can video chat in high-def 720p resolution with each other, or with laptops and cellphones that use Google video chat, says a spokesman.

The box is always on to accept incoming calls, which pop up as a box on the TV screen for users to accept as a video — or in the event of a messy living room or disheveled appearance — voice call. They can also ignore a call, although the system does not yet offer a voicemail feature.

Users who aren’t concerned about privacy can also set the Biscotti to automatically accept incoming calls from certain numbers, in which case the device will automatically turn on the TV set if it’s off and start the call. A spokesman says it’s a great way for homeowners to check on the house while they’re away. But he says people don’t need to worry about being spied on. An encrypted connection prevents hacking, and a bright red light alerts users who somehow missed the noise and display alerting to an incoming call that the camera is, in fact, on.

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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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