Panasonic flips switch

As of Tuesday, owners of Panasonic VieraCast HDTVs can make Skype video calls directly from their TV.

There is one catch, however: you need the Panasonic Skype-enabled camera, which is sold separately for $170. But calls will be mostly free.

If you use the VoIP telephone service from your TV to call other Skype accounts, there is no charge. Calling from a Skype-enabled TV to a landline does cost a few cents per minute. There's also Skype voice mail, which can be set up via the TV with the remote, and the ability to teleconference with up to 24 other parties.

Skype on TV was one of the big themes at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Besides Panasonic, both LG and Samsung showed Internet-connected TVs loaded with a Skype widget for video calls.

Panasonic says the Skype app is now available to use on 2010 models of VieraCast-enabled Panasonic plasma TVs. The models include the VT25, VT20, G25, and G20 series.

Samsung announced the availability of Skype on some of its HDTVs in February. Like Panasonic, Samsung's Skype on TV service requires the purchase of a Skype-enabled camera.

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