I sometimes look at the TV business in despair. I can see why it has become a commodity business at a time when technologically it should be enjoying a glorious resurgence. Why the world needs a device like the Logitech TV Cam HD is a reminder that the TV manufacturers forgot about the mission focus: to be useful to the consumer.
Right now should be the golden age of TV. The move from terrestrial to digital is almost universally complete. TV combined with the internet and apps has created a multi-screen ecosystem that enhances the experience for live television, catch-up television and all kinds of gaming experiences.
At a time when you’d think the threat of mobile has led to a distraction away from the living room, I think the opposite is occurring and if anything the living room could once again be the focal point for our digital lives.
And then you look at the TV business. Almost all the manufacturers are struggling with falling margins and complain how their business has become a commodity business. If you ask me they have only themselves to blame.
With every new march or leap in technology they launch a new device that costs a fortune at first. Remember when HD first came along, fools with money would think nothing about buying the next big (screen) thing only to see superior products with similar specifications arrive two or three years later for a fraction of the price.
We saw this happen with HD and we’ll see it again with 4K.
And now of course we live in the realm of the connected TV, devices that to all intents and purposes are personal computers without the keyboards.
So here’s my question. Why is it manufacturers of PCs a decade ago effortlessly installed digital cameras to enable two-way video conferencing? Mobile phone manufacturers have been doing the same for seven or eight years ago. But no one in the TV business could manage it until around now. Yes, Samsung has it in some of its new smart TVs, but why was the industry so tardy?
The TV for 50 years was a family thing that gathered people around it. Videoconferencing and services like Skype and Google Hangouts promise the same thing. So why no cameras in TVs? Duh.
Anyway, before some boffin emails me to talk about physics, spatial reality and depth of vision, I have to say it was with some relief that Logitech showed the gumption to address this obvious oversight with its TV Cam HD technology.
It looks a lot like the Xbox Kinect motion controller and side by side they are nearly identical – only the Logitech product is about a quarter of an inch smaller and has one camera instead of the three sensors on the front of the Kinect.
The device can stand on its own or you can pull out clips to allow it to settle on top of your TV.
It connects into the back of your TV’s HDMI slots and you just plug it in. Once you select the channel it searches for your relevant Wi-Fi router, input your password and off you go. It also comes with an Ethernet port but I would imagine most people would use Wi-Fi these days.
One of the first things I really liked about the product was the Skype interface matches pretty much every other Skype interface you are likely to use; on your personal computer, your tablet computer or your smartphone.
All your contacts are there and ready to call.
The only downside is the fact that this functionality isn’t universal – so you call your brother or friend and at the other end and he or she happens to be on his or her PC or phone so you get ‘big head’ syndrome.
While they can view you and your living room in glorious HD, the HD camera at the other end gives you an unrivalled view of their faces – every scar and blemish!
Where this technology really comes into its own is when the people at the other end are also using their TV as an interface for a Skype call. Then you get this cool sensation of being almost in the same room. I mean, who needs Star Trek technology when you can do this?
Specifications and features
The Logitech TV Cam HD is capable of wide-angle HD 720p video, so while this may not quite match the 1080p quality most people use for watching video and playing games, it is perfectly adequate for wide-angle Skype calls. Perfect, in fact.
The camera in the Logitech TV Cam HD features Carl Zeiss optics for precise sharp images.
One of the handy features on the device is its built-in ringer. Effectively, you can replace your home phone with this technology because it will ring if a contact is trying to reach you, even if your TV is switched off.
A handy little remote-control device allows you to zoom in on any part of the room and you can digitally pan, tilt and focus on a part of the image quickly, smoothly and easily.
Built-in image processors compensate for light issues to boost the image quality for the viewer at the other end of the Skype call while four built-in microphones help to eliminate ambient noises to allow crystal clear communication.
This has to be one of those technologies you would have loved to see arrive on the market years ago. While useful, I would imagine this kind of functionality will soon come standard on new TVs arriving on the market.
That said, however, not everyone is in the market to buy brand new TVs and an investment in a HD TV often is meant to last a decade.
So where this technology from Logitech will really come in handy is for people who are happy with their existing model of TV but want to have this functionality.
I admire the easy set-up and how Logitech has thought of everything. Usability is first class.
The only disappointment has to be the price. At €199 a pop, these are not cheap – you could almost buy a basic TV for as much.
Rivals like Microsoft with its more affordable Kinect controller have only got to start revving up the video calling capabilities on its device to give Logitech a run for its money.
If Logitech was smart it would try and get these devices into the hands of as many consumers as possible and the only way to do that is make them affordable.
Video calling via the living room TV is an opportunity that the technology industry in its occasional stupidity has ignored for too long. But I think the time has come.
Or are the consumer electronics manufacturers waiting for Apple to once again show them how it should be done like it did with the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010?
It’s time to get busy, folks.