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Logitech ConferenceCam Evaluation And A New DIY Videoconferencing Solution
We recently gave the Logitech ConferenceCam one of our "InfoComm "Best of Show" Awards and discussed in detail the emerging trend of USB HD cameras and free/low-cost videoconferencing software clients beginning to come on the scene as replacements for $3,000-$10,000+ dedicated videoconferencing clients. Since then, I got my hands on a ConferenceCam and have been kicking the tires. Here is what I have learned while using it as my primary camera for my heavy day to day videoconferencing. Most of my use was for standard desktop VC, with the camera positioned between two monitors (see the image above).
Logitech designed the ConferenceCam to meet the needs of small teams. Logitech states...
"The ConferenceCam bridges the "small meeting gap" in video collaboration. Video systems for large rooms are too expensive to be widely deployed for meetings of two to four people. Desktop webcams, as well as embedded laptop webcams, don't accommodate more than one person without groups having to uncomfortably huddle together."
With this in mind, I was interested in how well its PTZ camera could cover a variety of room configurations. During the course of this testing, I created the living room videoconferencing system you can see in the picture below.
Now, to be perfectly clear, I do not think I have solved the living room VC paradigm. It is a very tough puzzle with multiple elements that I will not even begin to go into here. I am not claiming to be (nor would I want to be) the next Umi. However, I can honestly say that I liked this experience. The eye contact was better than I had hoped, and the camera placement wasn't distracting, as I thought it might be .
This is the first time I have been able to use the biggest piece of glass in the house for videoconferencing, it was very easy to set up, and affordable. If you have a laptop, a Logitech ConferenceCam, and a VGA-DVI cable you are pretty much good to go. You may not purchase the ConferenceCam with this purpose in mind, but if you own one you might want to try this out because it is pretty cool.
The more important takeaway is the fact that this serves as a great demonstration of the real intended use of the Logitech ConferenceCam. With this amount of coverage, any office or small meeting room can be easily transformed into a functional and comfortable videoconferencing room. If it can cover a living room couch (see pic above), it can cover half a conference table without forcing everyone to awkwardly crowd in front of a webcam.
Logitech Conference Cam Performance
During the course of my testing, I used the camera with more soft clients and platforms than I can be expected to track or list here. They included not only the usual suspects, but even few beta clients that are under NDA from new market entries. The camera performed perfectly throughout all testing.
I did not expect the video quality to be an improvement over my previous camera, a recent model Logitech with similar specs to the ConferenceCam (including 1080p support and Carl Zeiss optics). However, when I joined one of my regular Google Hangouts, a friend immediately asked if I was using a different camera, without any prompts or hints from me. The entire Hangout went on to agree that something looked "better." Whether this is due to improved optics or software, the result is a great video image, even under less than ideal lighting situations.
The audio quality was very good, as we should expect from an experienced speaker vendor such as Logitech. However, it is still just a USB speakerphone and not intended to provide the quality available from standard PC speakers. In other words, most users will simply use their existing sound system, but if the ConferenceCam is deployed in a room with only a small laptop, it can provide quality, full duplex, audio. The microphone also performed well, easily covering its advertised 8 foot range.
Suggestion: Accommodate the "Between the Screen" Setup
Although the ConferenceCam is intended for small teams, it does introduce a new "between the screen" webcam dynamic. Many workers have gravitated to the two screen setup. With a webcam situated on top of one screen, the eye contact is a disaster when looking at the other screen. Moving the camera to a location in between the two screens, at approximate eye height, arguably improves eye contact. With this in mind, I think Logitech should encourage this setup, by making a few minor design tweaks.
Some buttons were not accessible due to the monitor placement, as shown above. In reality, this is a minor issue, as the remote can perform all of the functions available on the base unit. However, there is enough space available on the base for Logitech to redesign the button placement so they won't be blocked.
In order to get my monitors as close together as possible (which is a common setup), I had to kludge a bit by angling the ConferenceCam forward as shown above. A slightly altered stem design for the camera extender would resolve this issue.
Bottom line: The ConferenceCam does a great job at meeting its intended purpose, enabling comfortable VC in small team rooms. If you want to deploy professional business class videoconferencing for your small teams, without spending thousands of dollars on traditional VC gear, this may be the solution you are looking for. In addition, whether intended or not, Logitech has created the current Cadillac of consumer desktop webcams.
About the Author
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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