Video chat may be the bastion of tablets and smartphones, but that’s only useful for talking to one or two people at a time. To get a real family chat going, you need a wider lens and a camera placed further than arm’s length. Ideally, this is a camera you place in front of your HDTV, so you can see your friends or family on the screen while you chat. Devices like the Tely Labs TelyHD and the Biscotti pull this off, as do a few high-end HDTVs equipped with webcams either built-in or available as accessories. Logitech now offers its own solution, and as one of the biggest names in webcams since long before they were built into every smartphone, tablet, and notebook computer in existence, it has put out a very good one in the TV Cam HD. This $199.99 (direct) camera has a great interface and solid video and video quality, even if its Skype-only design will keep you from joining any Google Hangouts any time soon.
Design and Setup
The TV Cam HD looks like a Microsoft Kinect or the Tely Labs TelyHD: a black, rectangular device with a tilting base you can put under your HDTV or on a shelf above it. It measures 2.1 by 9.6 by 2.8 inches (HWD), making it low enough to fit comfortably in front of most HDTVs without getting in the way of the bottom of the screen. The base doesn’t pivot left or right, but it can tilt up and down and has a screw mount if you want to place it on a tripod. It sports a single lens on the front and four large grilles on top to cover the camera’s multiple microphones. The back of the camera holds an HDMI connection, an Ethernet port if you don’t want to use the built-in Wi-Fi, a micro USB port for power, and a small switch for resetting the device. The camera doesn’t have any controls on its chassis. Instead, you have to use the small black plastic remote included. The remote is simple, with a large direction pad and Zoom In/Out, Back, and Home buttons.
Instead of doing many things merely competently, the TV Cam HD focuses on doing one thing very well: Skype. It doesn’t support Google Hangouts or other Google services, it doesn’t support video or voice chat for any other messaging services, and it doesn’t have its own proprietary system, either. It’s solely a Skype device. The camera’s Skype interface is very simple and easy to navigate with the remote, with large text and icons that can be readily seen from across the room.
Setup is very fast: plug the included micro USB power adapter into the wall and the camera, connect the camera to your HDTV using the included HDMI cable, and either plug in an Ethernet cable or enter your Wi-Fi information through the on-screen menu. Once the camera is connected and, if necessary, updated, you can log in through your Skype account.
Performance and Conclusions
Placing calls is as easy to do as it is through the Skype software on your PC or the Skype app for your mobile device. If your friend is online, select his name to make a call. The video or voice call will then show up on the screen and you can talk to whoever is on the other end. The camera supports one-on-one video calls and group voice calls. However, for group video calls you can only join group calls in progress and only in audio-only mode. As of the most recent firmware update you can initiate group voice calls, but you can only add five parties unlike the total of 25 participants the Skype PC software allows.
Because it plugs into your HDTV through HDMI and doesn’t have a pass-through or provide an overlay, you need to use up an HDMI input for the camera and have the input selected to take calls. However, a built-in ringer lets the camera itself ring one of several ringtones when a call comes in, so you don’t have to have the input on the screen when you’re expecting a call.
The camera’s lens is wide enough to capture my entire couch with room to spare from approximately six feet away, and I had no problem zooming and adjusting the picture with the remote (the camera and lens don’t move, but it digitally crops the picture to show or hide whatever you want). It works well in relatively low light, and captured my apartment with only the illumination of my 42-inch HDTV. The TV Cam HD supports 720p video, which looks fairly good on a large HDTV, especially since you can’t expect super-high-clarity video streamed through any video chat service at this point. The multiple microphones with active noise cancellation worked exceptionally well, capturing my voice clearly while keeping out the street noise from an open window next to the couch. In a test video call with my parents, the picture and sound were both very good, hampered only by a few network hiccups on my modem’s side that caused the video to break up for a few moments.
The Logitech TV Cam HD is one of only a handful of webcams that let you make video calls from your couch without a computer. It’s easy to set up and easy to use, but its Skype-only and group chat limitations keep it from being the ideal communications hub. It works far better than the uncomfortably tiny Biscotti, which lacks Skype but offers Google support, and manages to edge out the TelyHD with a lower price tag and more streamlined menu system. If you want to keep in touch with your family and you don’t want to fiddle with positioning a tablet just right to get everyone in frame, it’s a great device. You just have to decide whether the $200 price tag is justified by your Skype use first.
|Active Noise Cancellation||Yes|
|Skype HD certified||Yes|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc