First Videophone Chat
While it'll be some time before people everywhere are hooked up to videophones, parents who are having their babies at one of the 1,400 maternity wards connected to Access Family TV, a telecommunications-based company, can already talk face-to-face with loved ones who are miles away.
Once labor starts, the mom- or dad-to-be alerts the company, which then overnights the equipment -- a camera and a cable-box-like device (all in one container) that hooks up easily to a TV and a phone -- to selected relatives. After the birth, the parents use the hospital's setup so that both sides can see and hear each other, and they can even videotape the footage.
But this new service doesn't come cheap: The first box costs $50, additional boxes for a two-day rental cost $30, and shipping costs are $25 to $30 (and even more for overseas).
Online Open House
Proud parents can now hold their own 30-minute "netcast" for friends and family eager to see and hear about the new baby in one of the 75 hospitals that have the setup provided by a new website, www.babypressconference.com. First, parents-to-be register with the website, which puts up a personal page for them to update friends and family on the progress of the pregnancy. When the baby's born, the site sends out e-mail alerts.
On the day of the "press conference," Mom, Dad, and baby sit at a kiosk equipped with a computer and a camera. An unlimited number of relatives with password-protected access can see them live on their web page, type in questions, and hear responses. The netcast is stored at the site for two weeks and can be ordered as a CD-ROM for $30.
And while you need a good modem (56K is best, though 28K will work) for a good-quality picture and sound, there is one big upside: It's free.