Video conferencing has been around for a while — heck I can remember as a kid trying out a version of it in a booth at Walt Disney’s EPCOT center. But for the consumer, “conference” isn’t sexy. Or interesting. And as a result of that, the technology for linking a video image with a “telephone” call hasn’t been sexy either.
Okay, so that’s all changed now that we have mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. That’s partly because more people are on the go as they communicate, but also because it took “consumer-based” technologies to come into play for people to use. Hence we got webcams and Skype and you-name-it.
What we don’t have in any abundance is a way to use that video linkage with the main guy at home: the TV. When you think about it, having video face-to-face and the like through a TV makes more sense than using a computer or a mobile device — for one thing the screen you’re watching is pretty big, so that’s easier on the eyes. Also, you’re more likely to be ready for a video if you’re at the TV, as opposed to clutching the phone or tablet to see who’s there while you’re pulling up your pants in the morning.
With that said, a TV-based video camera needs to have a few things going for it to be of any use: first, it needs to be easy to set up and non-intrusive in that when you’re not using it, it’s like it’s not there — the TV isn’t being bothered. The TV camera needs to be easy to turn on and use, and the microphone or microphones accompanying the video camera needs to be sufficient to take into account that you’re not screaming or — as is often the case — there are other people screaming all around you as you try to make yourself heard. Finally, the camera’s operating system should have software built in to use for “calling” — not everyone has a TV with applications. Oh — it would be real helpful if the camera could let you know that someone is trying to call you, so it’s not always a matter of having to arrange the call first.
Logitech’s TV Cam HD, model # 960-000921, actually does all of the above. And in high-def too. Need proof? Follow me as I set it up.
When you hold the TV Cam HD, you do get the feeling that it’s well made — it’s hefty and doesn’t come across as flimsy plastic. Logitech says they’re using Carl Zeiss optics — that should make for some quality imaging, especially when coupled with a 720p resolution. Low-light levels are also said to be optimized — if that works well then you won’t be seeing a lot of grain (in HD). I do like the fact that there’s more than a single microphone — make that four. That should help to mitigate the fact that for every person sitting in front of the TV (on the edge of the bed, for instance), there’ll be someone else at the side or farther back (or bouncing on the bed, for those with toddlers being hauled in to say hi to Grandpa).
Okay, let’s get to that installation — I plug a HDMI cable into the output on the back of the TV Cam HD and the other end into an open HDMI port on my HDTV. Obviously I also plug in the power supply brick too, but first I should decide where the TV Cam HD, model # 960-000921, is to go. In my setup there’s space in front of the TV for it to sit. And the double-jointed mounting ledge at the bottom can be angled so as to aim the camera slightly up. It’s also possible to arrange the TV Cam HD so it goes on the top of a TV — but even with the built-in hooking mechanism I’m not a fan. BTW, the TV Cam HD isn’t pencil-thin, so if you’re using it with a monitor, most likely it can’t go at the top because the top ledge isn’t wide enough for it to sit on.
So enough of that — the TV Cam HD is positioned on the cabinet in front of the TV. But there’s more going on with it than just lenses and microphones and circuity. The program Skype is built in, so you can access your existing account or create a new one. This lets anyone else with a Skype account communicate with you through the Internet. Of course the TV Cam HD has to have a way to connect to your home network — try built-in WiFI for that. Sure there’s an Ethernet port, but if the TV isn’t Internet-enabled, there’s less of a chance that a router or access switch is nearby. A direct connection lets the TV Cam HD take care of the wireless procedures — going WiFi means you’ll have to input some settings yourself. But since the TV Cam HD, model # 960-00092, brings up a setup screen when first used, if you can follow directions you’ll have no issues.
Now about that remote. Obviously it lets you control the TV Cam HD and access features built into it: for example, connecting with Skype and going into your “Contacts” list to initiate a call. The remote also enables you to activate the 2X digital zoom as well as pan and tilt the image being captured so the person at the other end has a better composition of you and yours. Of course digital degrades the image, so it shouldn’t be overused or done instead of a proper setup of the camera — you’re paying for HD after all so don’t stick your finger in its eye. But certainly being able to control the field of vision during a call is a good thing.
A very nice feature — make that two actually – occurs when someone calls you: the TV Cam HD, model # 960-00092, sets off a ringer and flashing light to tell you to “answer” your call (this light goes solid color when the camera is in use, btw). Nobody there — no problem, a “Message” light is illuminated to tell you to check into who had called (this functions through your Skype account).
Okay, so I’ve set the TV Cam HD up and it knows my Skype information. I’ve already set up the screen to match the image I want it to see by getting the camera to show me what it will be showing others (you can do this prior to making a call). This also lets me see how the amount of light/lack of light will affect the image. As I thought, more light is better, but even with minimal illumination the TV Cam HD’s image is quite good.
Below is a photo done with no light in the room other than some filtered daylight so that the screen won’t get a lot of glare for the pic — you can see even with such little light you are getting a decent image with focus (look for text as I moved a bit while shooting), What this shows is that even under adverse lighting the TV Cam HD can do its thing — and with good lighting well, no arguing against its use there.
So I’m placing a call to my friend Steve, who’s expecting to hear from me and well, there he is onscreen. Boy is his head big!..okay, it’s more that I’ve never seen him on a screen bigger than 4-inches or so. He says that I’m coming through okay as well — I try whispering but he can still hear me (cue that “big head” comment here).
Next I asked him to call me back. Sitting there with the TV off, about 10 minutes later the ringer and light did their thing. I turned the TV Cam HD, model # 960-00092, on and there he was. Head still big. And as he told me later, the image of me he saw was pretty sharp and only got a little bit grainy when 1)I turned down the lights so that the only illumination came from an end-table lamp, and 2)when I overdid the digital zoom (hey, he said MY head got big!). Overall he told me that I was coming through loud and clear and in HD even. His image –as is the case with viewing someone’s image coming into the TV Cam HD, model # 960-00092 depends on the quality of the camera at that end.
I should probably add that the Internet connection in play will influence whether the TV Cam HD can reach its full potential resolution-wise. Think of it this way: if you can get Netflix streaming in HD, you’re fine. If standard-def is as good as it gets, don’t count on the person at the other end of the call getting full 720p rez. Of course in many cases it won’t matter since that other person won’t be viewing on a HD screen. Think of it this way: the higher resolution capabilities of the TV Cam HD, model # 960-00092, starts you out at a higher visual plane of existence. Of course you do know that the person who benefits the most from the TV Cam HD is whoever you are sending your video signal to — so maybe it makes a better gift than a present to yourself. Just saying.
Bottom line: Logitech’s TV Cam HD, model # 960-00092, isn’t for the casual, but instead is ideal for those who want to video-chat with friends/family members over the Internet and actually have a quality image going out to them. And from the comfort of their big TV too. Add the built-in WiFI, Skyping and call notification mechanisms and you have a sensible and usable video calling system for a total of $199 retail.
- Onscreen controls for freeze frame/mute/answer-hang up
- Tripod mount
- Separate power supply makes it a bit bulky for use
- Doesn’t work with other video calling applications
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.