- "He [Marty] pressed the remote, flipping the art channel so that it once again filled the screen. Marty felt exhausted. All he wanted to do now was get back into the other room and finish his dinner. / He turned away from the video screen. / 'McFly!' a voice rumbled behind him. / It was the last voice in the world Marty wanted to hear. This had to be coincidence. Didn't it? / He turned back to the screen and the full-sized image of his glowering boss. / 'Mr. Fujitsu!' Marty did his best to smile. 'Good evening, sir!' "
- —From Back to the Future Part II by Craig Shaw Gardner (quote, page 88)
A video telephone was an invention that allowed someone to view the other person on a television screen during a telephone call. AT&T marketed some video telephones by 2015, as well as providing video payphones like the one present in Courthouse Square.
On October 21, 2015, Marty McFly received video telephone calls from Douglas J. Needles, and Ito T. Fujitsu. In both cases, during the call, a datafile of the caller appeared at the bottom of the screen below the video image, which listed below the caller's name (in order of appearance): 'Occupation', 'Age', 'Birthday', 'Address', 'Wife', 'Children', 'Food Preference', 'Food Dislike', 'Drinks', 'Hobbies', 'Sports' and 'Politics'.
The video telephone emitted a continuous low-pitched tone before being answered, with the words INCOMING CALL superimposed at the bottom of the screen, which was at the time showing The Art Channel. It was controlled by speech recognition, as Marty said "Hello? In here, please!" and clapped his hands on entering the living room, to indicate that this was where he wished to take the call. The work of art occupying the screen then shrank to the bottom right-hand corner with a 'click' sound effect to reveal the video image of Needles, and remained for a few seconds before disappearing as Needles started to speak.
At the end of the call, an on-screen message appeared reading "THANK YOU FOR USING AT&T" — the text of which was also read out by a female announcer's voice. Mr. Fujitsu's call came through immediately after AT&T's on-screen message, but this time no 'ring tone' sounded and no INCOMING CALL alert was displayed on the screen. After the call from Mr. Fujitsu, AT&T's on-screen message did not reappear; The Art Channel merely resumed its transmission of changing images of famous works of art.
When Mr. Fujitsu fired (or "terminated") Marty by fax, the content — "YOU'RE FIRED!!!" — was superimposed over the video image in large letters filling the screen, and at the same time it was sent to and printed out by all the fax machines in the McFly residence. A copy of one of these faxes was taken from the machine in the bathroom by Jennifer Parker, who was hiding in the house at the time. (timeline in which Marty has 1985 car accident)
Marlene McFly was able to talk on the video telephone using her video glasses, which displayed the orange illuminated word PHONE across the front as she did so. However, Marlene had to interrupt her conversation when Needles called, as the McFlys only had one phone line.
Behind the scenes
- In the novelization (see Quote above), the video telephone is operated via remote control rather than speech recognition.
- In real life, video telephones have existed since 1936 in Germany and since the 1960s in the U.S., but were never popular because of the slow bandwidth of telephone cable and a lack of public demand. With the development of DSL and cable networks, personal and corporate videoconferencing services such as FaceTime and Skype are now available on home computers and cell phones. Skype can also be used with a television set, with the addition of a webcam that is compatible with it.  However, unlike the AT&T video telephone seen in Back to the Future Part II, callers' datafiles do not appear on-screen. FaceTime can only be used with iPads, iPad Touches and Mac computers .
- AT&T developed a Picturephone service in 1970, but it attracted very few home subscribers.