The importance of the camera in collaborative solutions is ever more important, with a trend towards high resolution, fixed cameras with the pan, tilt and zoom function being carried out in memory, simply by moving around the full image captured by the camera. We look at some of the latest innovations in camera technology which could well see traditional PTZ (Ran-Tilt-Zoom) technology confined to history.
Most of us are familiar with the classic PTZ cameras used in both the video communication and security markets. Those who have been around since the early days of videoconferencing will probably recall the dedicated VC rooms or adapted boardrooms and directors’ offices with video added to any existing audio-visual catabolites.
In those days, meeting participants would have been mainly C-level management. Meetings were quite formal, with pre-prepared agendas because the cost of connection was significant – particularly for international calls. Many of these rooms used the typical boardroom layout with long tables often seating or 20 or more people. The video camera was mounted above or below the display so the distance of the furthest participant could be several metres.
These days, the camera resolution in a modern smartphone is measured in megapixels. Early videoconferencing systems were limited to just 92,000 pixels and these had to stretch across large video displays (often from projectors). Consequently, the video images weren’t great and the rooms had to be carefully designed to get the best from the limited quality.
In order that participants at the far end could make out who was speaking to them, the PTZ camera was introduced so that users could zoom in and devote those 92,000 pixels to the current speaker. Someone had to ensure that the camera was pointing in the right direction, at the right time. Someone had to ‘direct’ the camera and, in the early days, there could even be a technician available throughout the meeting to establish the call, monitor the connection and control the camera as required. Many traditional PTZ cameras had a number of preset positions pre-programmed in so the technician just had to select the preset that covered the current speaker.
Now that systems are much lower cost and more numerous, user interfaces were created to allow the participants to make their own calls (or VC administration personnel set up calls remotely and/or automatically) Users were not interested in controlling the camera. It was a distraction from the meeting and demeaning for a senior executive to get involved with the technology.
To overcome the problem, canny users set the zoom to fully wide and left it there demoting the expensive PTZ to a fixed camera, making it irrelevant and offering a less than perfect the experience to the users, particularly those at the far end of the meeting. With much higher resolutions now available from much lower cost solutions camera technology itself provided an answer.
For example, the new Altia PanaCast 2 180° 4K camera delivers huddle room capability for around the same price as a standard mechanical PTZ. The key new feature is Intelligent Zoom. This allows the PanaCast 2 to be set to face-detection mode, which frames the transmitted image according to the number of participants in the room; removing the need for the mechanical PTZ function and any user intervention.
With most enterprise-grade videoconferencing systems delivering at least 1920 x 1080 pixels, or full HD resolution, and the latest solutions with 4K, or Ultra HD, capability (3840 x 2160 or around 8 megapixels), the problem of being able to discern who is speaking, due to poor resolution, is largely gone. Everyone can be seen clearly.
The emergence of the huddle room has changed preconceptions about the nature and costs of videoconferencing and collaboration. Cloud video services, where the large cost of the video network infrastructure is being picked up by a Videoconferencing as a Service (VCaaS) operator, and clients need only pay a low subscription fee for access and
The cost of other hardware elements are also in sharp decline and it’s now possible to deploy video into a huddle room for less than £3000, including a large format display. Under pressure from their users for more readily available visual collaboration facilities, organisations are pressing these Huddle Rooms into video service at a time when the above factors are combining to take a lot of the pain away. But there is a problem when you start to use small rooms that only seat a few people; the participants are all very close to the display and, consequently, very close to the camera.
A typical, modern PTZ camera of just 70-90 degrees. When placed in a small room, this will mean that some of the participants will be partially or completely out-of-frame or will force everyone to huddle closer than they might have expected.
Again, Altia’s PanaCast 2 offers a solution, with the 180° 4K panoramic camera able to cover the entire room with a single, ultra-high definition video image. Unlike previous wide-angle or wide field-of-view cameras, Altia’s approach was to take the images from three HD cameras and to stitch the three images together in the camera, while also adding image correction to produce a single video stream to cover up to 180° with very little distortion.
The result is a very clear view of any room from the smallest Huddle Space to the largest boardroom or classroom in which every person, whiteboard or flip-chart is clearly visible. Because the image is in high definition, individual viewers or sites can pan and zoom into the part of the transmitted scene that interests them most without impacting on any other view
Altia’s PanaCast 2: a 180° 4K panoramic camera able to cover the entire room with a single, ultra-high definition video image.
New generation cameras for collaboration: Huddly
Huddly, previously ‘Kubicam’, first came to our attention at the last NEC Showcase event in 2016. Subsequently, NEC adopted the little square device as the standard camera option for the InfinityBoard interactive collaboration solution. We hope to cover the InfinityBoard solution in-depth next month, but for now, let’s look at Huddly.
Huddly is a Norwegian start-up with offices in Oslo, Palo Alto, Austin, and London. Previously called Kubicam, the company attracted international attention with its small intelligent camera. Huddly is a software-powered high-resolution camera with 120 ° degrees viewing angle.
“We believe in the power of new innovative projects like this one, working closely together with selective eco-partners to create a sophisticated solution like the InfinityBoard. Start-ups like Huddly are vital to technology innovation, as they constantly challenge the status quo and find new creative solutions. To engage with Huddly was an easy choice, since we really liked their compact software-powered wide-angle camera. Overall they
Huddly – the standard camera option with NEC’s InfinityBoard collaboration device.
contribute greatly to find new ideas and to encourage an innovative mindset to the whole project and future rollout phase.”
Huddly was established by Stein Ove Eriksen and Anders Eikenes – familiar names from the development of videoconferencing in Norway. The start-up has completed its series-A investment round, and picked up a total of $21 million, valuing the company at $130 million.
New generation cameras for collaboration: Logitech Brio
Logitech announced its most sophisticated webcam to date at ISE 2017, the BRIO 4K Pro Webcam. Delivering the highest quality desktop video experience available today, BRIO is a powerhouse webcam for business and home-office users, streamers, YouTubers, vloggers, and anyone else looking for a top-of-the-line webcam.
BRIO offers a number of industry firsts including Logitech RightLight 3 with HDR: 4K Ultra HD video quality: and 5x zoom, plus support for Windows Hello and other secure infrared-based facial recognition applications.
“Logitech has been delivering market-leading webcams for 20 years. With BRIO, our goal was to create an elegantly designed, feature-packed webcam that anyone who is the slightest bit serious about video quality will want,” said Scott Wharton, vice president and general manager of Logitech Video Collaboration. “Logitech BRIO takes webcams to an entirely new level. It’s truly an unparalleled webcam experience, whether you’re using it for business video collaboration, streaming a live event, or recording professional-quality video in 4K.”
Logitech BRIO delivers a premier video recording, streaming, broadcasting and desktop collaboration experience. In addition to featuring 4K and 5x zoom, support for Logitech RightLight 3 with HDR is said to deliver great camera performance in all lighting conditions – from low light to bright sunlight – as well as challenging high-contrast or backlit conditions.
BRIO users can select between 65°, 78°, and 90° field of view (FOV) to help ensure their camera is focused only on the area they want others to see. Logitech’s advanced lens technology with autofocus offers enhanced video quality with great resolution, speed, fluidity, colour balance and detail. Logitech BRIO works with all popular business applications, including Skype for Business and Cisco-compatible certifications, as well as all Logitech Collaboration Program cloud video partners such as BlueJeans, BroadSoft, Vidyo and Zoom.
Logitech announced its most sophisticated webcam to date at ISE 2017, the BRIO 4K Pro Webcam.
“Making do with ‘good enough’ equipment is not a viable solution in today’s business climate,” said Rob Arnold, Industry Principal of Connected Work at Frost & Sullivan. “At a highly attractive price point, Logitech BRIO delivers advanced functionality for the increasing number of professionals who rely on video communication.”
Business customers may purchase BRIO through the Collaboration reseller network, on Amazon.com, or on Logitech.com at a suggested retail price of $199 in the U.S. and €239 in Europe.
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