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The Logitech TV Cam HD: "No-Brainer" Living Room VC

August 27, 2012 | David S. Maldow, Esq.
Logitech_TV_Cam_HD_for_Skype.jpg Logitech, well known for PC peripherals (including consumer and business webcams), has announced its latest product, the Logitech TV Cam HD. The TV Cam HD is designed to be a simple and complete, plug and play, living room videoconferencing solution. The camera runs an internal Skype client, supports up to 720p resolution, and is Wi-Fi capable. Mount it on top of your TV, connect the two cords (HDMI and power), and you are ready to start. I chatted with Joerg Tewes (Logitech VP Digital Home Business Group) to learn about this new product and Logitech's plans for our living rooms. Let's take a quick look at what makes this product special, and why no one has previously managed to obtain viral adoption with a living room VC product.

Living room videoconferencing has always been a question of "when", not "if" it will be in every home. It has been a staple of science fiction and part of our collective expectation that by 2012 we would be answering calls on our living room TVs. Expectations aside, there are a number of obvious advantages to choosing living room VC over desktop VC for certain uses (e.g. family and social video gatherings). We can start with the fact that the living room is usually where you will find the biggest and highest quality display in the house. Perhaps more importantly, the living room is generally far more comfortable than the home office or computer room for social gatherings (real or virtual). Would you rather huddle around a monitor or spread out on the couch? Living room video is so compelling that I recently created a homemade solution, using Logitech's ConferenceCam and a PC (see below).

Homebrew "Living Room Videoconferencing"

If living room VC makes so much sense, then why hasn't it worked until now? Previous market entries suffered from a list of challenges, including being too expensive, too complicated, or requiring a monthly service fee. Logitech's previous entry in this space, the Google TV Revue arguably suffered from all of these issues. Other solutions struggle due to their closed networks. For example, VideoKinect which works with Xbox LIVE, is primarily used by Xbox players.

Perhaps most importantly, I don't think any previous solutions, with this form factor, hosted an internal Skype client (correction, see update below). Some units (such as Cisco Umi and the Biscotti TV Phone) had/have interop with Google Video Chat, but it tends to be a kludgy workflow, whereas Logitech is running a native Skype client. At this moment in time, the Biscotti product appears to be the most directly comparable competitor to the new Logitech product. The two products have a similar form factor, and similar pricing. The main differences are Logitech's video pedigree, and the Skype/Google choice. Logitech is banking that Skype is arguably a better choice than Google for this type of solution due to its massive user base. The rumors around Microsoft's plans for Skype potentially make it an even more compelling choice.

UPDATE: A comment below noted that I neglected to include telyHD. The telyHD runs a Skype app on the Android operating system. The website hints of the possibilities of supporting future Android apps on the device, which could be interesting. However, at $249, it is fifty dollars more than the Logitech solution and has a tough battle on the name recognition front. 

Keep in mind, the TV Cam HD doesn't interoperate with Skype through some gateway, the camera is running an actual instance of Skype. Therefore, the UI on your TV is the familiar Skype UI from your computer. This is literally as simple as Skype on your TV. Calling another Skype user with the TV Cam HD is no different than calling them using Skype on your PC. The only difference is that instead of the old desktop face-shot, you now get to experience a more natural, "hanging out" kind of dynamic. Watch the kids run around the room, see everyone at once, be in the same room as the party. This is what home videoconferencing was always meant to be.

Logitech clearly took a hard look at why this hasn't worked in the past and carefully tried to address each adoption hurdle. This isn't an attempt to address a niche, the goal is to be the company that allows home videoconferencing to finally go viral. Joerg Tewes has a pedigree for successful consumer products. Previously, as VP of Video Engineering at Logitech, he had responsibility for a number of their acclaimed consumer webcams. Now he hopes to recreate Logitech's success at the desktop over into the living room. As Joerg explained...

"The new Logitech TV Cam HD brings Skype video calling to the living room, so everyone can get in the picture and participate in a call. Because of how simple it is to use, combined with the overall quality, video calling in the living room can now become more mainstream than we've seen it before."

Logitech doesn't just face competition from other camera vendors, the major TV vendors have been making moves towards living room videoconferencing as well. A few new TV models run an instance of a VC client (such as Skype) internally, allowing users to plug a USB camera directly into back of the TV. Vendors have also been making moves towards marketing TVs with embedded cameras. As the technology continues to develop, users will have more and more options.

The Logitech TV Cam HD is expected to be available in early September for $199. Logitech may have actually cracked the living room video puzzle with this release. For consumers, this means that for the cost of a top end webcam, sci-fi style living room videoconferencing could finally be available to the masses.

About the Author
David_Maldow, Esq.David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate editor at Telepresence Options. David has extensive expertise in testing, evaluating, and explaining telepresence and other visual collaboration / rich media solutions. David is focused on providing third-party independent analysis and opinion of these technologies and helping end users better secure their telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter and Google+.

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