Product: Phone: Visual Throughput
desktop videophone   (+4, -1)  [vote for, against]
Use one-way mirrors to hide the camera

Desktop PC videophones always feel a bit like surveillance cameras - you're watching someone else from above, and even if that other person is communicating with you, they're still looking at a spot on the screen, not at the camera. One would have to move the camera behind the screen to fix that. When I was younger, my family took me to a sea bath. I remember waves, and wooden planks, and an almost-abandoned arcade that featured a game where one had to steer a small airplane model mounted on a piece of wire through a turning landscape, careful not to run into the bridge or the mountain, with extra points for flying under the bridge rather than over it. This was not before the age of videogames (another game available then was the classic Qix), but before real-time 3D rendering of other than the most primitive shapes; this game might have well been entirely electro-mechanical.

While half of my brain tried to keep the little airplane from crashing into the bridge, the other half tried to come to terms with the fact that what I was trying to do was obviously mechanically impossible. Like the magician waving a hula-hoop ring around the levitating volunteer, I was passing the plane again and again through this model. At some point, the wire or string or whatever it was that held it up would have to become tied up, or reach its end.

Only much later, after seeing the concept in a different context, I realized that the final steps in my model world's construction had involved a one-way mirror; that the little plane never really passed through that bridge, never really collided.

Maybe one could rig a one-way-mirror to reflect an already reflected videoscreen in front of the camera, and film to the back.

For the consumer market, I could imagine something roughly the shape of a photograph on your desk; only, it would be two-way, and it would move.
-- jutta, Jan 22 1999

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control
Filmed with Interrotron camera setup [mab, Jan 22 1999]

[Update: Andreas Kraft, a former colleague of mine who now works for the GMD, remembers:

A few years ago the DeTe Berkom ordered a video terminal from Art&Com, and they build a small series. It consisted of a one-way mirror that projects an inverted monitor image. Behind the mirror is a camera that transmits the face of the speaker. The whole thing is fairly lightweight, and you can mount it on a phone "arm" and move back and forth. I don't know what became of it though. I think they just considered it research. Right now, they're going with completely ugly ISDN-Telephones with an LCD screen and a little camera _next to it_.

Translation is mine. Andreas later added that he thinks it was called "Mediatel".]
-- jutta, Aug 09 1999

The documentary filmmaker Errol Morris uses a similar technique when he films interviews. An image of his own face is projected on a one-way mirror in front of the lens pointed at the subject. He calls the device the "Interrotron" and first used it in his 1997 film "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control." For details, follow links at
-- mab, Aug 10 1999

Someone at NEC research lab in Princeton came up with a way of blending two video images, from cameras above and below the screen, to give an image that looked like it was taken from the center of the screen. Dunno how well it worked.
-- rmutt, Mar 02 2000

Cool story.
-- centauri, Jul 25 2000

I really want to see this early electro-mechanical aeroplane-flying arcade game - does anyone know what this was?
-- hippo, Jan 31 2020

Yes. We do.
-- 8th of 7, Jan 31 2020

random, halfbakery