June 26, 2017

Owl Labs and 360 degree cameras

I'm always excited when a new camera with new features hits the market. Owl Labs introduced their new camera apparently in private demos at Infocomm 2017 then for general release the week after.

Personally, I don't agree with the concept of using 360 degree cameras in a standard conference room setup. Putting the camera in the middle of the table, but having displays against a wall (like in a normal room) will end up capturing the side of your head for everyone but those at the opposite end of the table as the displays. See the below schematic:



So what about "intelligent" framing cameras? Yes, they make sense and camera technology has improved to the point where it's no longer a pan/tilt/zoom camera with several seconds of delay, but it's quick digital framing.



No appearance of eye contact though

Where Owl does this framing a little differently than others, it appears to be a smooth and quick transition, leaving the full room view at the top. The guy in the back is really brought forward and you can actually see his face. That's great, but...




Notice the above picture. The method of framing (at least from the product video on Owl's website), it frames a person from left to right without regard for your actual location in the room. These two people are looking in each other's direction, but you couldn't tell that from the framed views of them. Their location in the pop up frames should be reversed.

This can get distracting if you're watching two people in the same room have a debate.

If the framing can be changed where people "pop up" relative to where they actually are in the room, this is a winner and a nice leap forward in camera technology. It may be able to do just that. Without a full test though, I don't know.



1 comment:

  1. Hi Bryan, thank you so much for your writeup. We're honored by the feedback so far, and you taking the time to review the Meeting Owl means a lot.

    You've hit on a lot of things we spend quite a bit of time thinking about! For example, your comment about eye contact is really important. Eye contact and face-on views are what make the conversation feel personal to the remote participant. You're right -- with the Meeting Owl, depending on where it's set up relative to the TV or person, you might not get direct eye contact as you would if you were directly looking at the camera. However something to consider, if most of the people in the meeting are sitting together in person, those participants are going to spend more time looking at each other than at the TV, and thus we think the Meeting Owl will capture their faces much better than a 180° or wall-mounted camera would.

    You had another great comment about framing the people so they "pop up" where they are relative to the room. For sake of transparency, the Meeting Owl doesn't do that today, but that's just the kind of improvement we can make via our over the air software updates. (In fact, it's been on our CTO's list for a while. We're waiting to hear that feedback from customers before we put it at the top of the priority list.) Great thought.

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