Practically everyone has a webcam. But what are your options when a fixed webcam simply isn’t good enough? For example, how to adequately service a small meeting room? What some would call a “Huddle Room.”
When Google launched their Chromebox-For-Meetings they selected the venerable Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 as the camera. However, it wasn’t long before they rethought the offer, calling the initial offering the small room bundle (up to 8 people) and offering a large room bundle to accommodate larger spaces and crowds.
The large room bundle swaps out the C920 for Logitech’s PTZ Pro Webcam, which is the best part of the CC3000e that was featured in VUC490, and which I reviewed in 2014. It was smart of Logitech to take the camera and offer it separately, since that’s their core competency. The speakerphone portion of the CC3000e, while convenient, was not a stellar performer.
Part 1: Introducing the VC520
Logitech’s moves into this arena did not go unnoticed. AVer Information has stepped into the space with their VC520 All-in-One Video and Audio USB Conference Camera System. Like the initial Logitech package, the VC520 bundles a USB 2.0 connected PTZ camera with a conference phone and the requisite connective stuff. They also offer the camera alone as the CAM520 PTZ USB Plug-N-Play Conference Camera.
AVer asked if I’d like try the VC520, and given my curiosity about such things, I could not refuse. I’ve had the VC520 in my home office for quite some time, and have been trying it in various applications. In this initial part of this review let me first consider the components of the system, which include the following:
- The connective components
- A small hub device
- A power supply
- Related cables
- A camera mounting bracket
- The camera
- An IR remote control (2xAAA batteries included)
- The conference phone
The Connective Bits
The hub (pictured above) that connects the various components has just four connections:
- DC power (12 vdc @ 4 A)
- A micro-USB port for connection to the host
- A mini-DIN style port for connection to the camera
- A mini-DIN style port for connection to the speakerphone
The 16 foot long DIN cables are color-coded, making setup dead obvious.
The Conference Phone
The speakerphone is a chunky round device, about 8” in diameter and a little over 2” tall. On its top there’s a 4” metal grill covering the speaker that measures about 2” in diameter.
The device has an array of three microphones around it’s perimeter. Each microphone element is shock-mounted to the frame. A foam ring on the bottom helps to further isolate the device from impacts to the table top.
The quoted playback performance of the audio portion is 280Hz – 20KHz. The 10 watt amplifier can drive it as loud as 95 db. The microphone array is claimed to cover up to 15 feet around the speakerphone, with frequency response of 100Hz – 14KHz.
The smooth ring at the top of the device has touch controls for volume up/down, mic mute, and to select the analog input. The analog I/O is a pair of 3.5mm jacks that support wired connection to a mobile phone or computer.
The analog “phone in” connector is actually a TRRS jack. Using the included cable I was able to connect my cell phone and make calls via the speakerphone.
The speakerphone also has a second DIN connector that allows a second speakerphone unit to be daisy-chained, giving the audio portion reach up to 30 feet, so accommodating a much larger room.
The camera is a substantial device. It feels hefty in the hand. The system includes a multi-function mount, but the camera module also has a standard tripod mounting hole in the bottom.
The camera has a 12x optical zoom lens, with 82 degree field of view at it widest, and just 6.3 degrees fully zoomed in. The lens is rated at f1.8 to f2.8 through its zoom range, which should be adequate to deliver low noise pictures in any nominal working environment.
The PTZ mount provides 260 degrees range of horizontal panning and 115 degrees of vertical motion.
A second DIN connector on the camera provides an RS-232 serial interface for a traditional VISCA-compatible PTZ controller. PTZ control is also available via a Windows application and the IR remote control.
The IR Remote Control
The system includes an IR remote control with a comprehensive suite of functions. It’s audio functions include call control, volume & mute state.Along with manual PTZ positional control, the remote can create and store a set of ten PTZ presets for convenient recall.
It also supports toggling between near and far-end camera control, if the attached VC system supports FECC.
The Other IR Remote Control
I initially received a production sample of the VC550, which was eventually replaced by a production model. Even so, in the time that I’ve had the device the company has released a newer version that ships with a different remote control.
This newer IR remote control accommodates control of multiple devices, offering three buttons to select which device it’s addressing.
Software Remote Control
AVer also offers a free downloadable PTZApp for both Windows & OSX. This program delivers basic remote control and troubleshooting capabilities via computer. It also provides a means of updating the firmware in the system, which I have now done three times without incident.
The PTZApp includes diagnostic functions, as well as advanced settings for the camera. These include a range of image quality settings like white balance, sharpness, flip & mirror, which accommodates ceiling mounting.
Installing the PTZApp also installs a Skype plug-in that enables hook state control from the conference phone.
Thus far I’ve described the basics of the device. In part two I’ll detail my experience with its use. I’ll also share some sample media so that you can draw your own conclusions as to its merit.