Webcams 7: VDO360 Serious Webcams For Business

It was around a year ago that went on the hunt for a USB 3.0 webcam, only to find that they were essentially nonexistent. In my quest what I discovered was a range of products beyond the familiar consumer webcams. These are serious webcams for business, offered by companies like VDO360.

That companies’ initial product, the VPTZH-01 HD USB PTZ Video Camera, was novel for its VISCA compatible pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) capability. It was introduced at around $1399, a price that was heralded as a breakthrough at the time. Award-winning in fact. The current street price, as exemplified by Amazon, seems to be $999.

The VPTZH-01 HD USB PTZ Video Camera is a USB 2.0 connected device, with all that entails. The sensor is capable of delivering images up to 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p.) Most applications will only manage to access a 1280 x 720 pixel (720p) stream since they are taking uncompressed frames from the camera.

Applications that are sophisticated enough to setup the camera to deliver a stream of MJPEG compressed images will be able to get full 1080p quality for the effort. The MJPEG compression overcomes the bandwidth constraint of the USB 2.0 connection to the host computer.

In reality, the major benefit to the VPTZH-01 camera is it’s PTZ capability. Unlike the Logitech CC3000e, the VDO360 camera supports standards compliant VISCA PTZ control. PTZ control is not passed along the USB connection, it’s on a separate RS-232 serial connection.

Yes, VISCA is that old! It’s also extremely widespread. Every installed meeting-room automation system (AMX, Crestron, Extron, etc) supports VISCA in some fashion. Any video conference soft client that offers PTZ integration (Cisco, LifeSize, Polycom, Radvision, Vidyo, etc) is likely using VISCA as well.

I requested and received a sample of the VPTZH-01 camera. I was impressed by the PTZ mechanics, ease of installation and use. I was less than impressed by the output image quality. At the time, it seemed best-of-breed for this new class of camera. Even so, in my home office, it’s output was not on par with a leading fixed webcam, like the venerable Logitech C920 .

All the foregoing was topical and current in Q2-2013, but time marches on. Earlier this year the company introduced a new camera, known as VPTZH-02…aka The Compass. This new model, priced at $1149 on Amazon, seems in many ways improved over it’s predecessor.

 

VDO360-Compass-Slide

Amongst the many features are included;

  • Improved “Accu-PT” motor control
  • 11X optical zoom lens
  • Improved optical accuracy
  • Up to 7 PTZ position presets via the redesigned IR remote control
  • Additional presets available via RS-232 remote control
  • Fully UVC compliant control
  • Onboard MJPEG engine delivering up to 1920x1080p@30 fps

The mechanical improvements to the PTZ drive are a welcome enhancement to the device. As someone who has experience with broadcast camera mounts and remote controls, I’m accustomed to truly fluid, smooth camera moves. Such movement is seldom possible with video conference cameras.

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What I also find interesting is what’s not listed. The new model remains a USB 2.0 connected device. It doesn’t leverage the faster, and now more commonplace, USB 3.0 connection to the host.

Should the use of the older connection type be cause for alarm? I think not. Anyone willing to pay the asking price for a camera like this is likely to be using an enterprise VC application that’s capable of setting the device to deliver a 1080p MJPEG stream. That renders the bottleneck posed by the USB 2.0 host connection moot.

The other thing that’s not mentioned is 4K/UHD resolution. In reality, it’s much too early to know if/when 4K will have any impact on common applications of video conferencing & calling. For example, Polycom’s new RealPresence Immersive Studio has 4K displays, but still leverages 1080p cameras & video streams. There are many options in capable and cost effective 1080p cameras, far fewer 4K models as yet.

Vidyo is delivering a 4K solution in partnership with Barco. Here again, the current solution uses 4K/UHD displays to have a larger canvas upon which to show 1080p video streams. The Vidyo solution is, at its core, software based, meaning that there’s still a role for improved 1080p USB-attached cameras, like this new VDO360 model.

As with DSLRs, there’s more to consider about a camera than pixel count. There are many things that can be done to improve the user experience with video calling & conferencing. Improved optics and more widespread access to PTZ capability are both good moves from VDO360 in this curious middle ground of enterprise uber-webcams.