It’s hard to think of a technology that was more central to our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic than video calling. And even if we finally get back to ‘normal’, there’s a good chance that video calling will remain a key tool in both our careers and our personal lives.
But despite the importance that video calling has gained, it’s remarkable that so few of us do this activity on the biggest screens in the house: our televisions. By “remarkable” I mean ridiculous. And when I say ridiculous, I’m talking about how virtually none of the tech companies that make smart TVs, game consoles, or streaming media devices (yes, Microsoft, Apple, and Google, I’m looking at you) have stepped up. making video calls on a TV as easy (and versatile) a task as doing it from a computer or smartphone.
There are, however, several ways to make these calls to a TV. Some are elegant, some awkward, but none is a perfect solution.
- How to make a video call on Facebook Portal TV
- How to make a video call on Amazon Fire TV Cube
- How to make a video call on Google Chromecast with Google TV
- How to make a video call on TiVo Stream 4K
- How to make a video call on Mecool Now
- How to make a video call on Android TV or Samsung Smart TV
- How to make a video call on Xbox One, Series S, or Series X
- How to make a video call using your phone as a wireless webcam
- How to make a video call by mirroring your phone, tablet, or PC to your TV
It’s weird to think that Facebook, a company better known for its massive social media and messaging presence than its hardware, has one of the best ways to video chat on your TV, but it does. The company’s $ 150 Portal TV is a device that integrates a webcam, microphones, and perches atop your TV. The smart camera can automatically follow you as you move around the room, and built-in apps like Netflix and Spotify make it a convenient alternative to other streaming devices.
You can use it to call other Facebook portal devices, but it also works with other video calling apps like Zoom, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting or Webex.
Of course, since this is a Facebook product, you can also make calls through Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
Oddly, even though Amazon Alexa is integrated with Portal TV, Alexa-based video calling is not supported. Unfortunately neither Google Duo / Meet nor Skype, which means that as smart as the Portal TV is, it’s not a flexible one as we would like.
Not everyone will be comfortable trusting a product with a camera and microphone from Facebook, but the Portal TV is a powerful video calling device for TVs.
Amazon makes several great Fire TV streaming devices, but its $ 120 Fire TV Cube has a really cool feature that helps it stand out from the streaming device bundle:
You can buy a cheap USB webcam, connect it to the Cube, and use the device to make free two-way video calls with anyone who has an Alexa-equipped smartphone, tablet, Echo Show, or Echo Spot.
You can use Alexa to start and end calls, as well as tell her you want to turn the camera on or off.
This solution does not have Portal TV’s sophisticated smart tracking camera (unless you buy a USB webcam that has this feature) and you are limited to calling people with Alexa devices, but if you already have one. Fire TV Cube, or if you were thinking about buying one, it’s yet another benefit of owning one.
Google’s latest streaming media player, the $ 50 Chromecast with Google TV, is a superb and affordable media machine, but it also has an unannounced (and not officially supported) feature.
You can purchase a USB hub and use it to connect a USB webcam to the streaming dongle. From there, you just have to load the Google Duo app from the Google Play Store, and voila, you will now be able to make TV-based video calls with any other Google Duo user. The only catch is that, at the moment, the Duo app seems to be limited to outgoing calls only.
Since the Chromecast with Google TV runs Android TV, this little trick should work with any video calling app you can find in the Play Store, and possibly apps that can be downloaded to the device, but don’t rely on it – like I said, none of this is officially supported by Google.
The TiVo Stream 4K is essentially the same hardware as the Chromecast with Google TV, which means it should work with a webcam as well if you buy a powered USB hub and Google Duo.
The Stream 4K runs Android TV, and while it doesn’t have the Google TV interface, it comes with TiVo’s Stream app, which offers a very similar, organized and personalized experience for finding streaming content to watch. . It also has fantastic integration with Slingshot television, making it an ideal accessory for Sling subscribers.
Speaking of Android TV and Google Duo, the $ 160 Mecool Now is like a hybrid of Facebook Portal TV and Chromecast with Google TV.
It’s perched above your TV (or you can mount it on a tripod), and its built-in webcam and microphone are all you need to make TV calls through Google Duo.
It’s also a full-fledged Android TV device, so you can use it to access a wide variety of streaming services like YouTube, but it’s not among the very small number of Android TV devices that Netflix has. chose to work.
Several companies, including Sony, Hisense, and TCL, use Android TV as their smart TV software, which means they must also work with Google Duo or any other video calling apps that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. However, you’ll need a USB webcam for this to work – and this is where things get a bit tricky.
Theoretically, almost all USB webcams should work. In practice, those who have tried this solution have had mixed results. TechToSee has contacted Sony, Hisense, and TCL to find out if those companies maintain webcam listings that are guaranteed to work with their Android TV models. Sony says it doesn’t have such a list and neither does TCL, but TCL says it has tested a number of these devices and so far all have performed very well. Hisense was not responding at the time of this post.
Google’s Duo team says the app is also available for Samsung’s Tizen operating system, which powers its smart TVs if you have a USB webcam.
This option is heavily Microsoft centric as it requires an Xbox game console (Xbox One / One S / One X / Series S / Series X), a USB webcam, and a Skype account.
Connect a webcam and install the skype app from the Xbox store will allow you to make Skype voice or video calls on the big screen.
To our knowledge, Xbox consoles do not support any other video calling apps.
For years, Tellybean developed software that allows an Android phone to act as a wireless webcam for a video call to an Android TV streaming media device or smart TV.
And although the company is now gone, its software still works and you can download it from the Google Play Store for Android and Android TV devices.
Once installed, the software allows you to make free video calls to other Tellybean users. The best part about this solution is that for Android and Android TV owners there is no new hardware to purchase. The downside is that there is no guarantee that the software will continue to work in the future, and there is no way to use Tellybean with other calling platforms.
If what you really want is to see your callers on a big screen, mirroring content from your phone or tablet to your TV is by far the most flexible option, if not not as convenient as having an all-in-one calling solution. on the TV itself.
If you have an Apple device, AirPlay screen mirroring will allow you to project audio and video from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac to an AirPlay 2 compatible streaming device or smart TV. You used to need an Apple TV, but nowadays Apple has licensed its AirPlay technology to a wide variety of manufacturers.
Smart TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony, and Vizio support AirPlay, and Roku just announced the release of its Operating System 10, which brings AirPlay 2 to a wide selection of its popular streaming media devices.
Alternatively, Google’s built-in Chromecast streaming technology can do the same from an Android phone or tablet to an Android TV streaming media device or Android TV-based smart TV.
You’ll still be using the camera and microphone built into your phone or tablet, and there are a number of great accessories that allow you to mount these gadgets on mounts, tripods, or clamps with goosenecks. flexible.