A brief history of the video call
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A brief history of the video call

30th November 2020
By Tom Ladle

Strap in, we’re about to delve into the history of the video call! When and where did it all start? Who invented it and how have they been developed? Well, you’ll be buzzing to know you’re about to find out all this and then some. Why are we doing this? To show you just how far this piece of tech has come.

When and where was the video call invented?

You might be surprised to discover that the concept of a video communication was floating around way back in the 1870s. However, actual work on tech began in the 1920s, with video conferencing first making an appearance in 1964. The company who unveiled this technological miracle to the world was AT&T, at the World Fair in New York (a worthy stage for such an invention). In the 1970s they developed a contraption known as the ‘picturephone’.

Check out the video below, highlighting some early picturephone features such as zoom control, height control, mute, document share and more.

Credit: AT&T Tech Channel.

You might also be surprised to find out that Bell’s picturephone wasn’t a roaring success, surely everyone would want to be nabbing this up. There’s no doubt it was technically, an amazing feat but Bell lost half a billion dollars due to extortionate monthly costs for the average consumer. It needed to be developed and be affordable for people to use it.

How have video calls developed?

Even back in the 1970s, many of the core features of the picturephone are the same as what we see today. But, with any piece of tech, the key to improving it is making it more refined and accessible for the people using it. For many years, the tech remained expensive and progressed slowly.

In 1982 a company called Compression Labs introduced the CLI T1, which was coined as the first commercial video conferencing system. Take a guess at how much you had to pay for this system. Well, it certainly still wasn’t what you’d consider affordable. In fact, you’d have to first dish out $250,000 (£187,123 in today’s market) for the tech itself and pay $1000 (£748.62 in today’s market) an hour for using the system.

We have titled this a brief history, so we are cherry picking the highlights here. So, when did video calls start being used on a wider scale? The invention of the webcam in 1991 was pivotal, as it meant that to use the product, you no longer needed to install equipment that occupied an entire room. The next revolutionary moment for the tech happened in 2003 where a Swedish man named Niklas Zennström founded a company you may have heard of called Skype. This was the first video platform that was adopted by your average person and really made them accessible to everyone.

Here at PowWowNow we expanded (blossomed some might say) from the world of conference calling to HD video calling in 2018. We also utilise video in our webinar product.

Present day

Today, we see video calls being used by essentially everyone as they’ve become the go to tech to communicate with people when we’re unable to meet them face-to-face. The tech has come an awful long way and the mass adoption of it means we are likely to only see in get better. For now, you can sign up to our 14 day free trial to experience our video call product!


Top notch video, screen share plus smooth audio – that’s meeting magic.