I presume you recall where left off in this little adventure. I had just finished my initial allocation of 1000 words in a general description of the AVER Information VC520. Let that be the foundation upon which you add the following observations of its use. And use it I did.
Unboxing & Installation
Once unboxed and setup I connected the VC520 to my desktop computer. As a generic UVC device there was no device specific driver to install, although I did install the PTZ remote application and update utility.
My desktop runs Windows 10 Pro 64 bit. This system does not have the Windows 10 Anniversary Update installed so it’s not hobbled with respect to webcams. Various apps on the system immediately recognized the VC520 as audio & video I/O, prompting for access to the new hardware.
I used the VC520 with various software applications, including:
- Counterpath’s Bria For Windows
- Google Hangouts
- Jitsi & Jitsi Video Bridge
- Open Broadcaster OBS Studio for Windows (64 bit)
- Polycom RealPresence Desktop
- vMix 17
- Wirecast v6.x
None of the applications listed had any trouble using the VC520. In fact, I had it setup and running in less than 5 minutes.
I used it in a variety of ways. I mostly used it indoors, but just for kicks I put the camera on a tripod outside one Friday, and used it to share a nice Texas day with a VUC call. Since it’s not weather-tight the rest of my use was much more traditional in nature.
The Conference Phone
The major question with the audio portion of the device how well will you be heard by the meeting participants at the far-end of the conversation? To evaluate this I set the device up in my dining room, which is typical of a mid-sized meeting room. The table seats 8 comfortably.
I setup to record the audio from the VC520 using VoiceMeeter Banana on my laptop. Then, while prattling on like a madman, I circumnavigated the table.
Most of the time I kept a distance of 1.5 –2m from the conference phone. Near the end of the sample I trekked out some 4-5 meters from the conference phone.
The basic idea was to see how the audio level varies, if at all, during the recording. I’ve overlaid a VU meter so you can see for yourself as the clip runs.
Analog Connectivity To Mobile
I also made a few calls using the VC520 and my cell phone, which was connected using the 3.5mm TRRS cable provided in the package. This worked well enough. Using Bria for Android on the Nexus 5 was able to make calls to ZipDX in G.722-based HDVoice.
Audio playing back through the VC520 sounds decent. Given the smallish dynamic driver in the conference phone there’s limited low-frequency extension. AVER quotes playback frequency response as 280Hz – 20KHz which, at the low-end, is more in keeping with legacy PSTN standards. Nonetheless, in practice it proved satisfactory for video conferencing or conversation.
A 3.5mm line out jack provides the opportunity to implement audio playback through more capable hardware, if desired.
Using vMix, which allows detailed configuration of the camera, I was able to determine that at HD resolutions, the VC520 supports YUY2 uncompressed, MJPEG and H.264 compressed modes. The H.264 mode must first be enabled using the settings exposed in the AVer PTZ & diagnostic application.
I primarily concerned myself with operation at 720p30 and 1080p30 as these two standards dominate my activities. For sake of simplicity I left the VC520 setup for MJPEG mode in all of my use, including creating the sample media offered here. MJPEG is preferred over YUY2 since it allows operation at 1080p30. It’s also preferred over H.264 in bi-directional communications where low-latency is a concern.
Warning: The Lord of Darkness Approaches
You may recall some time ago I described how the law of unintended consequences stuck in my home office, a new ceiling fan rendering it far quieter, but also much darker. This circumstance has yet to be definitively addressed. Despite four French terrace doors and a skylight, my office remains quite dark at times.
In truth, the problem is seasonal. In the spring and summer there’s enough natural light hereabouts, barring the occasional thunderstorm. Even so, I must admit that my home office is darker than a typical company meeting room. This makes it a challenging environment for a camera.
I feel that the VC520 faired quite well under the circumstances, but it’s still something to consider when examining the sample media.
A Camera & PTZ Example
The next sample recording I have to offer highlights the video quality, the behavior of the PTZ mechanism and auto-focus action. I began with the camera on my desk pointed at the art on the far wall, some 20 feet away.
I went though a series of PTZ presets using the IR remote control. Each time I recalled a preset you can see a label shown in the video. These labels can be hidden if desired.
The various presets included fully zoomed out, pointed up, zoomed in, and focused on different devices at the far end of the room. The auto focus was set to continuous. The auto focus can also be set to act once after each PTZ move. Manual control of focus is also possible.
After exploring the action of the PTZ presets I overlaid the Windows utility and used it to control the camera position. You can see that the camera doesn’t attempt to auto focus until after each move has been completed.
As you can see in the sample video, the PTZ mechanics are quick and relatively smooth. AVER quotes the stepper action as 0.45 degrees/step while panning (left-right) and 0.25 degrees/step in tilt (up/down.)
I’ll also note that the camera has built-in noise reduction. It’s set to “low” in these examples. Choosing the middle setting made for slightly nicer video, given the amount of light in the room.
Also, the manufacturer tells me that they have recently implemented a 2X digital zoom in addition to the 12X optical zoom. The 1080p sensor allows added zoom to range, while operating at 720p, without degrading image quality.
I would have liked to have confirmed the behavior of the camera’s VISCA remote control. However, I didn’t have suitable third-party PTZ remote control system available.
The metal mount included with the VC520 allows tabletop, wall or ceiling mounting arrangements for the camera. When ceiling mounted the PTZ App allows the video to be flipped to correct the vertical orientation.
For example of the VC520 used in different, perhaps more typical lighting conditions, have a look on YouTube.
My Kingdom for a Chip Chart
The definitive way to evaluate cameras for colorimetry is using a standardized color chip chart from the likes of DSC Labs. These are costly, so I don’t own one.
I flirted with the idea of making a suitable image in Photoshop and displaying on a monitor. However, that proved to be folly. To be effective the chart need to be a printed matter viewed via reflected light. A camera pointed at a monitor sees a washed-out mess of transmitted light, making the exercise pointless.
VC520 vs Canon 70D DSLR
Given the amount of light in my office, I was impressed by the video that the camera was delivering. So I though it’d be curious to see how it compared to my DSLR, a Canon 70D that costs considerably more than the VC520.
I moved the VC520 to an adjustable laptop stand, and located the DSLR on a tripod immediately behind and above it. You can see a still of the arrangement in the sample clip. That still was taken using the camera in my mobile phone.
The Canon camera has an EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS STM lens. It was set to record 1080p30 using auto-exposure. The VC520 was also set to 1080p30 and recorded into vMix as before.
I also tried to match the two shots reasonably closely. A graphic overlay indicates which camera you’re seeing in each case.
While the shots look like they could be stills, I assure you that, with the exception of the still from the cell phone, they are running video in all cases. I found myself wishing that I had an old, analog clock so that you’d see that they are the same scene, taken at the same time.
I wanted to give you long enough shots to let you look at some of the detail in the scene. The clip ends with the two shots shown side-by-side for comparison.
The VC520 does have a “brightness” setting which was at the mid-point (5) during this test. I suspect that I could have used this to make the shots match more closely, but it would have resulted in a darker scene, and likely less useful for a video conference.
The DSLR produced a more accurate representation of the scene. The VC520 shot is brighter and somewhat desaturated. That said, I think that the VC520 produced more usable video for the purpose of video conferencing.
A Further Comparison
To be fair, I really should compare the VC520 to Logitech CC3000e. After all, Logitech more-or-less created this product category with the CC3000e. However, Logitech already obsoleted the CC3000e with the Logitech Group Conference Webcam for Big Meeting Rooms, which was release earlier this year.
Since I don’t have access to that device I can’t offer comparative media samples. Instead, I offer a few simple observations about things encountered while using the older CC3000e and the VC520.
For example, the camera portion of the VC520 is markedly larger than the camera from the CC3000e. The two devices pictured above are proportionally sized.
The size of the camera can be a benefit or a problem. The VC520 is mechanically more robust and has a more reliable PTZ mechanism. It’s more likely to withstand the physical abuse of a portable life. On-the-other-hand, being larger, it may be more difficult to mount in some situations.
Turning our attention to the conference phone components, we find that the Logitech conference phone is slightly larger than its competitor.
Moreover, the Logitech device has quite a number of controls on the conference phone itself, where the VC520 has comparatively few. The VC520 leans more heavily on the IR remote control for its operational controls.
The AVER remote control has more buttons, largely reflecting its ability to store and recall PTZ preset positions. The Logitech remote has just one button to recall a single “Home” position.
AVER’s VC520 is one of a small group of new, more affordable, all-in-one solutions to video conferencing. Add a decent small computer and a monitor or HDTV and you have a complete, affordable VC solution for a typical meeting or board room. It’s so easy to setup and use that, in many cases, an end-user can do it themselves in minutes, without any help from IT or a consultant.
Given the proliferation of online video conference services like Blue Jeans, GotoMeeting, Hangouts, Jive, LifeSize and Zoom this sort of hardware will likely continue to grow more popular. It fills the gap between fixed focal-length desktop webcams and costly dedicated hardware room systems.
Beyond traditional VC applications, it’s also quite useful for streaming media production. AVER also offers the CAM520, which is the PTZ camera component alone, for just $850. That makes it one of the most affordable remote controlled PTZ cameras available. It’s easy to see how this kind of hardware would be welcome in schools, city council chambers, and churches who are adopting online streaming.
With a selling price of $950, the VC520 isn’t exactly cheap, but it is a good value. If you need a VC solution for a small- to mid-sized meeting room it’s well worth a look. Add the optional second speakerphone module and it may address larger rooms as well…all without destroying your budget.
- Convenient all-in-one solution, works with any host platform and software client.
- Delivers 1080p30 with good low-light performance.
- Robust PTZ camera with good zoom range.
- Multiple modes of remote control – USB, IR, VISCA.
- Handy PTZ memories (10 via IR remote, 100 via USB & VISCA remote.)
- Good range of controls in configuration software.
- Colors appeared somewhat washed-out.
- Limited low-frequency extension of conference phone.
- DIN connectors can become loose over time.
- No Bluetooth interface.