Review: Logitech’s Brio 4K Webcam Pro

My how time flies. It hard to believe that I’ve had Logitech’s Brio 4k Webcam Pro in my office for well over a year. While I reported some cursory observations here and here, I’ve yet to give it a proper review…until now.

Brio is Logitech’s first 4K webcam.

As you may recall, I was quite eager to get my hands on a next-generation webcam. I had high hopes for what might be possible using a faster USB 3 connection to the host and a more modern sensor. Brio certainly addresses those areas and more.

My initial evaluation of Brio stalled for quite some time. At that time neither my desktop nor laptop, both a circa 2013, were up to the task of handling 4k video in real-time. While I was using Brio every week, I wasn’t properly able to exercise the little beast.

Happily, the eventual purchase of the Airtop-PC has provided a more than capable host platform. The Airtop has the CPU, GPU and connectivity necessary to cope with 4K video without breaking a sweat. Or making a peep.

Further, as part of my preparations for ClueCon 2018 I upgraded my vMix license to the 4K edition. This gave me both 4K capability and remote control of the PTZ Optics NDI cameras that I rented from Tom Sinclair at Eastern Shore Broadcasting.

Suitably tooled up for the task, I’ve been able to give the little Brio more of a workout in recent months. What follows are my observations from daily use and a series of experiments.

Mounting

Brio is in many ways just like its much older kin, the C920 and C930e. It sits atop my monitor, except for those occasions where I take advantage of the standard threaded mount to use a small tripod.

Unlike those older models, the monitor mount comes away from the camera body, revealing the threaded connector for the tripod. This is a nice design, but presents one minor issue. The camera is not firmly connected to the mount while perched atop my monitor. It can be a little wobbly.

This may be exacerbated by my current monitor arrangement. When Brio first arrived I was using a pair of 23” FHD displays on a dual-monitor mount. Clamped to the desktop, it was positively stable. In contrast, my current arrangement is a single Samsung 27” 4K display, which is definitely less stable. The design of the base of Samsung monitors makes them a little wobbly.

My solution is to place a small washer around the mounting pin, between the camera mount and the camera body. This keeps the camera itself from wobbling.

In fact, I’ve found that the washer was also helpful when I mounted Brio to any of my several tripods.

Connection

Brio has a USB 3.0 type-C connection on the back of the camera body. The included cable has a USB 3.0 type-A connection for the host. The “Logi” branded cable is a little on the stiff side. This turns out to be a good thing, since it helps to hold the camera steady on the monitor mount.

I’ve had no issue connecting Brio to the Airtop directly, although I more typically connect it via an Anker USB 3.0 powered hub. You can in fact connect it to a USB 2.0 port, but this will limit its performance to 720p30 (YUY2) or 1080p30 (MJPG.)

USB 3.0 is a blessing as far as bandwidth is concerned, but also has certain limits. For example, the longest USB 3.0 cable you will find is just 2 meters (6 feet-ish.) This is not a problem in normal use cases, where the camera is located near the host computer. In unusual cases, were you need the camera to be more distant from the host an active USB 3 extension will be required.

Video Resolution

As you might expect, Brio can be configured at numerous different resolutions from a paltry 160 x 120 pixels, all the way to 3840 x 2160 (UHD) and even 4096 x 2160 (DCI 4K.) Now that I have a vMix 4K license and couple of real 4K monitors at my disposal, I can confirm that it delivers on the promise of high-resolution video.

Video Formats

While Brio support more frame resolutions than its older siblings, it supports fewer encoding schemes. Being UVC 1.1 compliant, at 720p or higher resolutions, it supports two forms of uncompressed video (YUY2, NV12) and MJPEG.

It does not support H264 AVC or SVC. This is completely OK. The use of H264 was required at a time where webcams were constrained by the USB 2.0 link to the host computer. Compression, either MJPEG or H264 (AVC or SVC) , allowed the delivery of 1080p30 over a connection that would not otherwise allow it. USB 3.0 renders this unnecessary.

Using H264 in particular had a hefty price…latency. Long-GOP compression introduces a second or more of delay into the video stream. It also requires that the host app know how to request and cope with the compressed video stream. Some do. Most don’t. In short, H.264 compression onboard was a niche solution, leveraged largely by Skype and some enterprise UC applications.

Since Brio has a 5 Gbps USB 3.0 link to the host it can deliver 720p60 or 1080p30 as an uncompressed YUY2 stream. Reaching to UHD or 4K the host app must use NV12 or MJPEG encoding. NV12 is uncompressed, but with reduced chroma resolution making it possible to fit the stream across the USB 3 link.

MJPEG is simple intraframe compression that reduces the bitrate over the wire, but adds no latency. It can be handy since it presents less burden to the USB connection, although at the cost of a little image quality. This can be useful if you’re trying to use two Brio webcams connected to the same USB 3.0 controller. For example, Host and Guest webcams connected to a laptop using a USB 3.0 hub.

In point of fact, Brio can deliver 720p90 or 1080p60! That is, if you have an application capable of using those frame rates.

Weeds – Brio, vMix, Microsoft Direct Show & Microsoft Media Foundation

Sorry, but I’m going to dive off into the weeds for a minute. A lot of what I’ve learned about the Brio webcam came through its use with vMix. When Brio first showed up at my door I had a freshly rebuilt version of Windows 10 Pro on an older PC. I was able to load a vMix trial license on it and experiment in 4K for a few weeks. This pointed to the reality that a more capable host was required.

Some time later, other people who were using Brio with vMix started to complain about latency when the camera was configured beyond 1080p. This inspired some research.

Asking around, I was told that under Windows 10 and using the older Direct Show framework, the standard way vMix accessed webcams, 4K was not reliable. Microsoft was directing software developers to use the newer MMF approach to accessing the camera.

I presented my findings to Martin Sinclair, CEO and lead developer of vMix. A short while later they released a new version that implemented a new method for accessing Brio. It now appears in the camera menu as Logitech Brio and Logitech Brio MF.

When selecting Logitech Brio MF vMix uses the MMF method and NV12 encoding, which delivers 4K uncompressed, without the stuttering or latency that people had previously been experiencing.

Verifying Frame Rates

In researching Direct Show vs MMF, one of the key complaints was that some devices failed to deliver the promised frame rate. For example, when set to 720p30 a camera might not manage to deliver 60 unique frames/second. Instead, it might duplicate some frames to over come internal latencies.

Faced with this assertion, I set out to verify that Brio actually delivers 720p60. I found a forensic clip on YouTube that presents 60 observably different frames/second. Such clips tend to be clocks of a sort.

I played this clip on a laptop while recording the screen via Brio connected to my desktop to my desktop. I used vMix in a project set for 720p60, with the Brio inputs settings using MF access at 720P60 with NV12 encoding. I then evaluated the resulting clip in Adobe Premiere Pro 2018.

This was a fair bit of effort, but it allows me to state unequivocally that Brio delivers 720p60.

Taking this experiment one step further, I reset everything to 4k30. This time I used a film countdown leader, again evaluating the clip recorded via Brio. I was once again able to verify 30 unique frames/second. So Brio does make good in the promise of 4k30 when MMF is the access method.

Sorry there’s not much to see in those clips. They simply prove that I actually conducted the experiments described above.

RightLight 3 with HDR

Making good video takes more than just pixel resolution, it takes good lighting, proper exposure, low noise, etc. Logitech trumpets Brio as featuring RightLight 3 with HDR. I’ll set aside their claims for the moment in favor of my own direct experience.

Brio handles my admittedly bad home office better than any other webcam I’ve used. My office is bad because I have no overhead lights. It’s something I’ve meant to address. The presence of a skylight and two sets of double French terrace doors means that I often get a lot of natural light. Except when it doesn’t, which is seasonal. The lack of overhead lighting means that there remain dark corners.

Honestly, the only reason I’ve been able to get by this long is the fact that I still have a Brightline I/S-22 LED Conference Lamp. This acts a as a fill light on those occasions when I don’t have the natural light of a terrace door in that role. I just recently noticed that Brightline no longer offers that product. That’s a pity.

The challenge presented by my office is considerable. Depending upon the location of the desk in the room, the webcam may have to deal with the fact that I’m not well lit, but there’s a ton of light from the terrace doors. Further, there’s a cycling light resulting from the combination of the skylight and a ceiling fan.

For the moment, I struggle with how to adequately illustrate my claim. I’m loath to offer sample pics/clips of myself. That’s hardly informative, or interesting.

Windows Hello

Honestly, this is one of my favorite things about Brio. It can be used with Windows Hello to automate login to my desktop. This is the result of an IR imager included in the camera. It allows Windows to make an heat map of my face, which is effectively a biometric login. I like this a lot more than I would have expected.

Microphones

Like various Logitech webcams before it, Brio includes a pair of microphones. While convenient, purely on principle I can’t recommend that anyone plan to make use of these…ever.

The simple fact is that, while they do work, they’re not positioned properly to deliver great audio. Logitech claims that the microphones have some beam-forming tricks to reduce ambient noise. That’s nice, but even if done perfectly, it’s remedial. It simply cannot compete with proper mic placement.

Proper mic placement, where an individual is concerned, is a headset with a boom mounted microphone. The microphones in Brio can be put into service in those cases when you’re not the only one involved at that location.

Of course, Logitech makes some decent headsets for office or gaming applications.

Camera Settings Software

Logitech shipped Brio with a utility called Logitech Camera Settings. Normally I don’t use such apps. If possible I prefer to use the camera via a generic UVC driver. However, to be fair to the camera, when it arrived I gave the app a try.

Camera Settings is unlike the dedicated apps that many have used with the older C920 webcam. Launching the app it offers two panels; Home and Advanced.

The Home panel has some basic settings:

  • Aspect Ratio – Standard or Widescreen
  • Flicker Reduction – 60 Hz or 50 Hz
  • Field of View: 65, 78 or 90 Degrees
  • HDR on or off

The Advanced panel has additional settings for:

  • Brightness
  • Contrast
  • Color Intensity (Saturation)
  • White Balance (with auto)
  • Auto or Manual Focus

The camera can only deliver one stream. While the Camera Settings app is running and showing a preview stream, other apps could not also get access to the stream. However, if I launched vMix first and configured Brio as a source it would see the camera stream normally.

When I later launched Camera Settings it did not offer the preview stream, but it did allows me to adjust the various settings in real-time. In fact, I could use the digital PTZ controls in Camera Settings to have faux PTZ control of Brio. vMix itself correctly reports Brio as not being PTZ capable.

The same thing happened when I used Camera Settings and OBS at the same time. Only one of the applications could access the stream at a time.

Pseudo-PTZ

One of the nice things about a 4K webcam is that it can kinda fake PTZ. If you only require 720p30 for your Hangout, Skype or SfB call, you can use the PTZ controls offered in Camera Settings to adjust what the field of view. With most settings the image quality is sustained since it’s not actually being enlarged. It’s just a question of what part of the sensor is being used.

Multiple Webcams

Early versions of Camera Settings presented me with a certain problem. It would not work correctly when more than one webcam was connected to the host. An update released in July 2018 solved this problem. It now identifies multiple connected cameras, allowing you to select which one you want to adjust.

I’ve used it with as many as five (!) connected cameras; Brio, CC3000e, Rally, C922 and C920. It correctly identifies them all, offering only those settings appropriate to each in each case. If the video stream is not already in use by another application, Camera Settings displays the preview when adjusting that camera.

In Use: Typical Use Cases

I’ve used Brio with many of the common video chat & calling applications, including Hangouts, Skype, Bria 5 and Zoom.US. Also, and various WebRTC-based services, including Meet.jit.si.

It happens that 4k-capable video chat services are still quite rare. So, while I was able to use Brio with all of these services at 720p or 1080p, I could not try any of them at 4k30.

Within the constraints of those services/clients, Brio handled everything I tried easily and without issue.

Video Quality

Most reviewers will simply tell what they think about something, with little effort to provide supporting evidence. This is not my way, which introduces complications. One of reasons this review was so delayed was my struggle to find some way to properly evaluate and convey what this little webcam can do.

During my 20+ years in broadcasting I was accustomed to going to NAB, where I’d see companies like Sony, Canon, Ikegami or Red present elaborate scenes at their booths. These scenes typically looked like fancy TV shows, well lit with beautifully dressed sets, and talent wearing complicated costumes.

Canon-NAB2018

It was all designed to give you something great to look at as you tinkered with the cameras on display. Consider the frame shown above, which is from a video taken by Chris Voss at the Canon booth at NAB2018.

Of course, I have nothing like that to use as a test scene, which has proven demotivating. I’m still considering how I might craft a test scene that would be suitably informative. There will be more to follow once that problem has been addressed.

For the moment, you can take my word for it, or check out some of the reviews on YouTube.

Summary

As I’ve now amassed >2k5 words, I will bring this a close with this simple summary. Brio is the very best simple webcam I’ve ever used. For all the activities that require a webcam, it’s a great solution for most people. It’s much better than the built-in webcam in the name-your-favorite-computer-here. It’s also appreciably better than the old C920.

Pros:

  • Truly delivers 4K30.
  • Better 720p and 1080p than older models.
  • Deals better with high contrast scenes than prior models.
  • Supports biometric login via Windows Hello.
  • Works with every software and service I could find.
  • Virtual PTZ can be handy.

Cons:

  • More costly than the prior reference models (C920/C930e.)
  • USB 3.0 has a cable length limitation.
  • Dark scenes are noisier that I would like.