On November 7, 2022 Neat announced the "Center", the latest 360 degree camera for meetings. Read on for more information, including Bryan's take on the device.
The Neat Center is the second 360 degree camera to be introduced in as many months, following up on Yealink's SmartVision 60 (Read our blog about it here) We note that the SmartVision is presented as a Microsoft Teams Room solution while the Center is marketed to Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
The idea behind 360 degree cameras are that they are supposed to create a better view of the participants by not capturing people in a row, and possibly having someone behind another person as presented to the remote side. This happens all the time in typical conference rooms. The Center, with "Neat Symmetry" capabilities aims to increase meeting equity in addition to having a better view of participants. Read more about Neat Symmetry HERE. Meeting equity in unified communications means turning everyone in every meeting into their own small window so everyone receives the view from all participants equally, regardless of room or equipment choice. The jury is still out if customers like or want this type of meeting experience, but many vendors on both the hardware and software side have adopted the idea and are moving in this direction.
The benefit of multi-lens/sensor devices is that there are more pixels to throw on a person's face. A single lens/sensor camera attempting to crop and frame a participant will result in lower resolution. An array of sensors will be able to capture multiple participants individually at higher resolutions.
The problem with multiple-lens/sensor devices is that they are electronically stitched together. Physics only allows for the images to be aligned at one finite point in space unless there is a dynamic stitching mechanism built in. I expect that Neat's engineers have addressed this in one way or another but in every multi-lens/sensor environment or device I've worked with has either a visible static seam or a dynamic one.
The primary issue with 360 degree cameras remains eye contact with the remote participant. With the current crop of 360 degree camera still living and playing in a "traditional" conference room world, you can't get around it. As you are looking at other people in your physical room, yes that perceived eye contact with the remote side is good with a 360 degree camera, but they aren't actually looking at the remote participants. Once they turn their head to look at the single display on the wall, all eye contact is broken and the effect is that the remote participants are talking to the side of your face. The other issue is the camera may think the on-screen participants are actually in the room and inadvertently captures them.
If 360 degree cameras are to become mainstream, it's my opinion that a different style of meeting room needs to be designed getting rid of the big display at the end of the room. I hate to say it, but several displays need mounted around the camera, almost like the Polycom Centro of several years ago but with a table. Or, we need to develop more multi-camera meeting spaces.
The Center will be available in Fall 2023.
This blog was written without the benefit of a demo, hands-on testing or prior knowledge of the device ahead of the announcement. All information was generated from the above announcement.