I Want A New Kind Of Desktop Webcam

Logitech-C920-WebcamYes, 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.

Logitech-Conference-cam-BCC950Then 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.

DVE telepresence Executive Silhouette

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.

s90fqIt 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.

  • mowcius

    I have similarly always hated the situation where I never appear to be looking at the user on the other end of a video call. It does however mean that people who struggle to look others in the eye during conversations can stare at the camera and give that impression anyway.

    It’s no doubt going to be a technical challenge to solve!

    I can’t see how you could actually embed a camera in the middle of screen though. In front of the pixels it would be in the way, behind the pixels and the pixels would be in the way. This issue is only made more difficult with the shift to higher and higher resolution displays.

    I wonder if you could have two cameras capturing your face in 3D, and then simply tell the computer to send the image as if you’re looking straight at the one camera. The background might be more difficult to fix but a blurred out background would be fine in my opinion.
    This might also work as a selling point for people who care less about fixing the eye position video conferencing issue but want to send their face in 3D to family/friends on the other end.

    Rob

    • ostelaymetaule

      I like your idea with 2 cams. I think it is not very complicated to implement. I will do some researches and may be there are already a software to do this kind of things.

  • JimCanuck

    Glad to hear I really don’t need a replacement for my Logitech C 920. Just need to face it slightly downward. Now back to updating 40 applications on my iPad Air!

  • ostelaymetaule

    But but… As you mentioned in a far 2013 (it is like more then 2 years ago), there are really no webcam that you could use for full HD video. And many webcams claims they can produce 720p video just making it 10-15 fps, what in my opinion is very disturbing. (yes, i am looking at you, Microsoft hd3000). And with all this brand new 4k monitors and tv panels it will be kinda crappy telco with an VGA picture on the screen.
    So far there are still really no solution to get a quite good framerates with a common webcam – there are no webcams that could do more then 30 fps in ANY resolution. As a fan of simulator games (Elite, Flight simulator etc) i am really excited to try headtracking – it can be done with an usual webcam and a free software but more fps is better. And there are literally only one product that can do it well. PS3 Eyecam. Yes, a sony product from 2007 with self made pc drivers. Its like almost 10 years ago.
    It is dissapointing mostly because there are tech to do it (looking on gopro/ xiaomi YI action cams). But somehow nobody gets in this market.

    *sorry for my grammar*

    • mjgraves

      That’s not really true. I’ve used many webcams that can deliver 720p30 reliably. That’s the limit of what can be done when sending uncompressed frames over USB 2.0. To deliver 1080p30 the camera must encode the frames in some fashion to reduce bandwidth.

      High-frame-rate, say beyond 30p, simply isn’t available from this sort of camera. Nor is 4K or HDR.

      • ostelaymetaule

        Yes, it is true. But we are no longer handicaped by usb2.0. And there are at least one action cam that can work like a web cam.

        • mjgraves

          I have several GoPro’s here, from Hero2, Hero3 and Hero3 Black. They’re not very good as webcams as they have so much barrel distortion to the lens. This limits live applications significantly.