Yes, I want a new webcam! The idiocy of that statement doesn’t become apparent unless you’re familiar with my home office, which is littered with various webcams. They have become something of an obsession. Yet, none of them does quite what I’d like.
My reference for a simple USB attached webcam is the venerable Logitech HD Pro C920. One sits, a near permanent fixture, atop my left-side monitor. It’s a solid product. It’s affordable. Makes great video under various lighting conditions. It can deliver MJPEG or H.264 encoded streams, which makes it capable of 1080p when used with suitable software.
Logitech’s C930e can also be found hereabouts. The business class sibling to the C920, it’s very similar except for two important attributes; a wider field of view and no requirement for a driver. The wider, although still fixed, field of view makes it a little better suited to a small meeting room than a desktop.
Operating as a generic UVC device means that it will work with basically any platform, with no specific driver requirements. It also means that you can readily use more than one connected to the same host computer.
Then there’s the Logitech BCC950, the first of the ConferenceCam Series, featured on VUC back in 2012. It’s also a generic UVC device, so no driver required. It extends the capabilities of the C930e with a decent PTZ capability.
In point of fact, I like the BCC950 as my desktop webcam because it allows me to adjust the framing of the image. The trouble is that the size of the thing makes it onerous on my desk. Further, it’s audio capabilities are not all that useful to me. I prefer, and advocate, using a headset over any kind of speakerphone.
I’d like something that permits more ideal sightlines. When using a webcam you should be able to sustain eye contact with the people at the far-end. I really hate when the webcam positioned atop the monitor (C920, C930e, LifeCam) makes it appear to everyone that you’re always looking down.
It’s even worse with the BCC950. Even with it’s long neck, when positioned beside the monitor, it make me appear to always be looking to the side. The BCC950 positioned between my two desktop monitors is my current best case, but it’s still a compromise.
In years past I’ve had desktop monitors from Asus with a built-in webcam. The built-in webcam was a nice idea, but like the webcams built-into laptops, they produced dismal image quality. Utterly unusable, IMHO.
Further, they were still mounted above the display. That does little to improve the viewpoint of the camera. What’s required is some way to incorporate the camera into the display.
At the far end of the spectrum of cost, DVE Telepresence has what may be the ideal solution in their Desktop Silhouette Executive. It’s a 27” monitor arranged in a one-way mirror mount. It’s similar in principle to how teleprompters work. The camera is located in the center of the displayed image, at eye-level, behind one-way glass. It looks at you through your view of the far-end call participants.
It seems to me that this is the definitive way to maintain proper eye contact. The company offers a downloadable study on the subject. Viewing effectively through the display overcomes the geometry of someone who is physically very near the display.
However, it also seems that this arrangement means that this display would be dedicated exclusively to the video conference function. That implies that I need a bigger desk for a third monitor.
I’d really like to have something that’s more closely incorporated into one of the displays that’s normally used by my desktop computer. After all, that typically what’s feeding the display.
The new product introductions near this space all seem to be targeting the smaller room applications. Contenders there include Logitech’s ConferenceCams, AVER’s VC520, VDO360 and HuddleCam. These are all quite costly, and not well suited to desktop use.
There simply hasn’t been much action in the desktop webcam market in recent years, even as they come to be used more and more. I think that there’s room for someone to solve the problem of compromised camera viewpoint & sightlines. Perhaps as people begin to look to newer, high-resolution desktop monitors a manufacturer will be able to differentiate themselves by implementing a more functional integration of webcam and display. It could be a way to add value to 1080p displays that will soon face an onslaught of cheaper 4K panels.
I remain, as always, an edge case in search of a solution.