Titanic Shift Underway for Video Conferencing Cameras

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The Array DX Camera and Image Processor enable life-size, immersive telepresence using any vtc codec. Top: Array’s dual-screen immersive image Bottom: Same scene through traditional vtc camera

Story by Andrew W. Davis / Wainhouse Research

Last week’s session at Enterprise Connect dubbed “Telepresence on an SMB Budget,” together with some of the devices on the show floor, was a chance for attendees to see how camera designers are taking advantage of high performance processors and new image sensors to drive new solutions for both personal and room video conferencing needs. Here are five examples (in order of increasing prices) seen in Orlando

  1. Logitech’s Brio ($199) is the company’s latest webcam, featuring 4K video, dual microphones, 5x digital zoom, a privacy shutter, support for infrared-based facial recognition (a security feature), and the company’s RightLight technology to handle difficult lighting situations. Brio and the Skype Room System’s SmartDock were the centerpiece of the Logitech booth.
  2. Oslo-based Huddly is hoping you’ll think of them when you consider deploying video in your huddle rooms. The company’s webcam ($499) claims 120 degree horizontal and 90 degree vertical fields of view combined with a high resolution image sensor. While not yet shipping, a Huddly camera was on discrete display for those who looked carefully in the Zoom booth. Huddly’s plan is around software for image processing (vision, learning, AI, analytics) performed inside the camera.
  3. Altia’s PanaCast 2 ($995) is a surprisingly tiny plug-and-play USB webcam with 3 miniaturized cameras, 2 microphones, and an embedded video processor that performs real-time, in-device video stitching and optimization to provide a natural perspective to the remote site. The company also offers an Intelligent Zoom software package ($149) that automatically and dynamically adjusts the field of view (zooming in and zooming out) to include everyone in the conversation as people leave or enter the room.
  4. Array Telepresence’s presence in a panel discussion focused on the company’s Equal-I imaging system ($9990) consisting of a dual-head camera and image processor. The system transforms an incoming PTZ stream to a single or dual screen configuration that provides a true immersive experience. The system uses fixed cameras that capture every participant, eliminating the need for PTZ or auto-tracking functions.
  5. Polycom’s exhibit featured the company’s EagleEye Director II camera system (MSRP $12000 with one camera), a nominee for the Best of Enterprise Connect contest. The camera automatically zooms in on an active speaker without the use of a remote control or camera presets. Utilizing the latest in speaker tracking and facial recognition technologies, EagleEye Director II continually scans the room and adjusts the cameras to appropriately frame everyone in the room. When someone in the room starts to speak, the system seamlessly transitions to an up-close view of that speaker. What’s new in the II model is that the processor composites the active speaker image (large) and the whole room image (small) from the two cameras and sends a single stream to the remote site. It’s a subtle but valuable enhancement to any conferencing environment.

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The first four mentions are clearly aimed at small or perhaps even medium sized conference rooms. They perhaps herald the death of the motorized PTZ camera. All are likely to be found attached to open PC-based room systems or even the dedicated Skype Room System that is beginning to ship. Logitech, Huddly, and Altia, however, claim that their cameras are also suitable and affordable for personal use in offices and cubicles. As video conferencing at work becomes even more commonplace, it remains to be seen whether corporate budgets will stretch beyond supporting the $100 webcam common today, or worse, the embedded laptop bezel (or tablet) camera. And of course you can’t host a solid video conferencing session without solid audio performance – something you can’t evaluate on a noisy tradeshow floor.

As the name suggests, Polycom’s EagleEye Director II is a second generation product with multiple improvements in the audio and video processing domains. The show floor demo was impressive with 12x PTZ cameras and the ability to frame both the active speaker and the group simultaneously. For some environments (and budgets) it will be a perfect fit, but in 2017 EagleEye seems to be swimming against the high-resolution-fixed-camera-with-image-processing-software tide.

Filed Under: Telepresence

About the Author: Howard S. Lichtman is a productivity-focused technologist, author, and consultant with specialties in telepresence and visual collaboration to improve organizational and personal productivity. He is the founder and president of the Human Productivity Lab, an independent consultancy and research firm that helps organizations design telepresence strategies and deploy telepresence solutions. He is the publisher of Telepresence Options, the #1 website on the Internet covering the telepresence revolution and editor of the Telepresence Options Telegraph, the world's most widely read publication focused on telepresence technologies. Mr. Lichtman is also the author and/or co-author of The Inter-Company Telepresence and Videoconferencing Handbook (2009), The Telepresence and Videoconferencing Exchange Review(2010), Telepresence, Effective Visual Collaboration and the Future of Global Business at the Speed of Light (2006), and Emerging Technologies for Teleconferencing and Telepresence (2005). He is currently working on Telepresence Options 2010 Yearbook. Mr. Lichtman is a frequent commentator on telepresence, videoconferencing and effective visual collaboration and his writings on and analysis of the industry have been featured by US News and World Report, Telephony Magazine, CXO Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Reuters, Pro AV Magazine, Killer App Magazine, ABA Banking Journal, Bank Systems and Technology Magazine and CFO Magazine among others.

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