Skype and Lync on a SMART TV

An early Christmas present in the form of a new SMART TV (Samsung) brought visions of sugar plums dancing in my head – communicating with my Lync contacts on my couch via the built-in Skype application on my TV. While Skype in your living room on a SMART TV is old news, I was looking forward to seeing and communicating with my Lync contacts (via Skype & Lync Federation) with no PC, Tablet, Phone, or Gaming device – just my TV.  Here is what the Skype sign-in screen looks like when you start it on a SMART TV:

Skype TV 1

Skype Federation with Lync is not Possible yet on your SMART TV

My visions were quickly dashed – the first thing I discovered is that the version of Skype that runs on SMART TV’s does not allow sign-in with a Microsoft Account yet, which of course is prerequisite to Lync federation (for the record, the version of Skype running on my Samsung TV was v2.13). Without sign-in in with a Microsoft Account, any attempt to add a federated Lync contact will produce a “Not Found” error message. As the Skype and Lync story evolves quickly I would imagine sign-in with a Microsoft Account will be available in the not-too distant future (just speculating here).

Despite not being able to communicate with Lync, I did start to enjoy the Skype experience on my TV and here is what I found.

You cannot use a Regular Web Camera for Audio/Video with most SMART TV’s

After starting Skype on your TV, you quickly realize how restricted you are if the SMART TV has no native audio and video. The Skype TV application notifies you when it starts whether there is an audio/video capable device attached as shown here:

Skype TV 2

I started to embark on hooking up a standard Lync optimized Web Cam via USB but discovered that a regular computer WebCam cannot be used.  A specialized “TV Camera” is needed. This Skype support statement explains why in this Skype support statement as:

Can I use my regular or HD webcam with my Skype-enabled TV or do I need a special one?

Since Skype on your TV isn’t compatible with regular computer webcams, you need to use a special TV camera. These are specifically designed with microphones that can pick up sound from further away, allowing you to enjoy Skype calls from the comfort of your couch, as well as providing great quality video that’s been optimized for use with your TV.

Some higher-end SMART TV’s come with a built-in video camera. Another noteworthy point is that the audio is provided by the special TV Camera – i.e. there are no microphone special devices – the audio is provided through the camera. Here is an example of the TV camera that would work with my Samsung TV:

This particular camera retails for ~$250.  If anyone has some experiences to share with other camera options, please comment.

Hooking up a Keyboard to your SMART TV is a Wise Investment if you are going to Use Skype TV

With all this Skype’ing on your TV, you will start to get frustrated with all the intricate pressing of TV remote buttons. Fortunately most SMART TV’s easily support hooking up a wireless keyboard (and mouse if you wish) via a USB receiver and transmitter on the keyboard side.  I would recommend hooking one up if you are going to use Skype on your SMART TV.

Most SMART TV’s have a ‘Device Manager’ buried in the Menu settings which can be used to setup a keyboard and mice. The setup screen for Samsung is shown here:

Skype TV - Keyboard

Skype and Lync in your Living Room on your TV is Compelling

After getting over the initial hurdles described above, I think the Living Room part of Microsoft’s “from the Boardroom to the Living Room” vision  is quite real and promising – more so with an entertainment device such as the Xbox One – but for now I’ll focus on the SMART TV experience.

Admittedly I was skeptical about Microsoft UC making it’s way into my living room.  I am still not sure how much I would use it for work-related communication, but the real power of having Microsoft UC on your TV is having all your contacts – landline (e.g. Mom and Dad) and UC enabled ones (Skype + Lync) available in a common living area.  With Skype’s ability to dial-out to a phone line (i.e. PSTN), you have the power communicating anywhere:

Skype TV - Experience

Making PSTN calls from your TV is Liberating

As mentioned above, having my landline contacts available in my common area space was compelling. Imagining a future Skype and Lync enabled TV in every living room definitely brings “unified” to a whole new level in Unified Communications.

Here is a picture of an incoming home landline call from my Skype account. I am not sure why caller-id number is so bizarre but I obscured the last 4 digits in case it means something :-).

Skype TV - Landline

Summary – Microsoft UC in your Living Room is Better on an Entertainment Console

While I await the evolution of Skype and Lync on the TV and see the merits of this, a better living room experience right now (and in the future) is on an entertainment device such as the Microsoft XBox One. The big advantage is the ability to leverage all the devices built-in to the entertainment console for communicating (e.g. camera, microphone, keyboard, gaming controllers).  The experience get’s really impressive when combined with motion detecting devices such as the Microsoft Kinect.

Here is a good YouTube demo of Xbox One including the Skype experience with the Kinect: Xbox One – Full Dashboard Overview with Yusuf Mehdi and Marc Whitten.

Of course the disadvantage is not all your contacts will have an XBox One, but as SMART TV’s replace regular TV’s, at least we can look forward to a greater unified experience.

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