Coming Soon: A Pair of New USB 3.0 Webcams

You might recall my ongoing lament about the lack of innovation in what we now laughably call webcams. If not, here’s a brief refresher…the current state of the art in consumer webcams (IMHO, the Logitech C920 & 930e, released in 2012 & 2013 respectively) are getting quite vintage. Where are the newer models that address current technological front lines, like USB 3.0, 4K resolution, VP9, HEVC, etc?

Well, there appears to be some movement in this area. Although, while interesting, it’s probably not what you expect.

1. StarGazer from Razer

Razer is working on a webcam called StarGazer. Like all things Razer, it’s aimed at gamers. The StarGazer is a USB 3.0-attached webcam that incorporates Intel’s RealSense technology. It’s reportedly capable of a few neat tricks, including; dynamic background removal, 3D scanning and face/gesture recognition.

rzr_stargazer_v02_png

It claims to deliver “Ultra-High” frame rates, citing 720p60 and 1080p30. This capability is likely the result of using the faster USB 3.0 connection.

There’s no mention of on-camera encoding which implies delivery of an uncompressed video stream or streams. We know from past experience that USB 2.0, at just 480 mbps, is limited to passing just one stream of uncompressed 720p30.

The USB 3.0 link delivers 5 Gbps. That’s more than enough pipe to accommodate 720p60 or 1080p30 without resorting to using compression over the wire.

Further, the 3D features are enabled by using two image sensors, delivering what is basically stereo vision. This also requires a high-bandwidth connection to the host, since it’s receiving not one, but two video streams.

The video processing is presumably host-based, since the StarGazer is stated as requiring an Intel 6th Generation Core processor and working only with Windows 10. Yes, you’ll definitely need a considerable CPU to crunch all those pixels.

The product announcement, back at CES2016, pegged the price at $199. Availability is currently projected in Q3-2016. Soon-ish.

2. The sub2r camera from r2y1

Not a gamer? More of a maker? Then perhaps the sub2r camera is more to your taste?

It’s tough to call the sub2r camera a “webcam.”  Then again, that term is basically obsolete. It’s a bit like the concept of “filming” or “filmmaker” in the new era of entirely filmless, digital photography & cinematography.

The sub2r camera is more of an industrial camera system. It’s a modular, programmable camera, with swappable optics and sensor boards. It can be configured with 720p, 1080p or 4K resolution sensors. At 720p it can deliver 120 frames/sec, 60 f/s at 1080p, or 30 f/s at 4K.

It delivers with color sensors to start, but specialty sensors are possible. A monochrome sensor is already in the plans.

sub2r camera

Connectivity is by way of Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3.0, with some GPIO thrown in as well. Like a surveillance camera, the sub2r camera can be powered-over-Ethernet (802.11af) which is great when the camera is located remotely. A more rudimentary coaxial DC power jack is also provided.

Programmability is supported by an on-board FPGA. The team behind the product, which is still in development, are working on delivering uncompressed and/or an H.264 compressed stream with the basic software load.

What they really seek to offer is the ability to tweak the operation of the device in software. For example, when I asked about NDI, Newtek‘s lightly compressed protocol for streaming video-over-IP production, Rich Neumann, CEO & Co-Founder, replied that it should be possible. He intoned that they might not implement it, but that someone surely could.

Another curious point…it has microphones, which is a little unexpected in an industrial camera. It also has a headset jack. It basically acts like a Blue Yeti. It provides convenient, low-latency, local audio monitoring.

Since it’s not yet possible to get hands-on the device the company’s YouTube channel serves as the best way to gain some insight into the camera. In particular, the teardown video is a good introduction. I’m told that an initial small batch are soon to be distributed to “influencers” and early supporters.

Rich Neumann will be appearing as our guest for #VUC605 on August 5th, 2016.

Closing

Half-a-lifetime spent in the broadcasting world leaves with with some curious stories about manufacturers. These two cameras remind me of SONY. While they are a once well-regarded consumer electronics company, in the broadcast space their name eventually came to be used an an acronym. SONY = Soon, Only Not Yet.