Logitech Revue camera: Video conferencing's future?

October 25, 2010: 1:04 PM ET

As a $149 add-on to the Logitech Revue GoogleTV, the  HD camera makes the device a whole new product.

I'm not done putting the Logitech Revue unit through its paces for a full review, but as a standalone product, the Logitech Revue's HD camera is a really compelling offer. I've spent the last few days getting friends and family up on Logitech's Vid HD software for PC and Mac to test this thing out. I also tested it with other Logitech GoogleTV users.

In short: Wow.

Three things stick out to me: 

1. The price for a standalone unit is $149 plus the cost of a $299 Logitech GoogleTV. The combined $450 price point is significantly less than the Cisco Umi unit (though Cisco's is 1080P vs 720P for Logitech) at $600 and $25/month or anything decent you'll find in the corporate world. The price is also significantly less than Polycom teleconferencing systems, which is currently used in conference rooms around the world. As an added bonus, the Revue includes a fully-functioning GoogleTV.

My connection speed is poor but the video quality was amazing

Another issue with the Cisco Umi is that it requires upload speeds of 3.5Mb, or more than twice the speed of a T1 upload, to operate at 1080P. Most small or medium-sized businesses, and certainly most homes, do not have that capability yet.

Even if a connection's maximum speed is over 3.5Mb (like my Optimum Online Boost, which purports to be 5Mb), it doesn't necessarily mean you'll see it when trying to get online.

I was able to get 720P out of my otherwise poor Optimum Online service when connected to another Logitech Revue at under 2Mbs. If the connection weakens, the Logitech software re-adjusts on the fly and will downgrade to SD quality video until the connection speed picks up again. Logitech recommends at least 1MB for HD video calls while Cisco says you'll need 1.5Mbs for their 720P calls.

Testing 720P HD Video conference to another Revue in California

2. The quality is really something special. I've used iChat, MSN Messenger, Yahoo, Skype, Google Talk as well as corporate products from Polycom and Cisco to video chat. The Logitech review out of the box blows away any consumer products and certainly hangs with way more expensive corporate products. A big plus is that the Logitech Vid HD software is available for any PC or Mac with a camera (even the SD cameras that come with most laptops nowadays).  Machines without HD cameras obviously won't be able to broadcast in HD, but they will receive an HD picture.

The device also does close-up focusing as well. As an example, Logitech Project Manager Glen Kuo flashed his business card in front of the camera a few inches away. The camera almost immediately focused on the card. When he removed it, the whole room was visible again and in focus.

The camera itself is small and easy to mount on top of an HDTV or large video monitor. The field of vision is much wider than a typical laptop or iMac iSight camera because of Logitech's Carl Zeiss wide-angle lens. You have the option of zooming in and panning if you want to isolate a certain area or person in the field of view. It also has stereo mics on either side that pick up sound from throughout the room. The sound is much better than any computer I've used.

My mom usually video chats with her grandson on iChat, but we installed Vid HD on her MacBook and put my son in front of the GoogleTV. The wider field of view (which let him run around the room without having to manually pan the camera), more pixels and better mic led to a much improved experience for her. She's sold, as I'm sure many other grandparents will be.

Note: we did get a few dropped connections throughout the hour-long call. However, I blame my Internet connection for that as the same thing happens at the same frequency on iChat or Skype.

Testing Computer (SD) to Revue (HD) Video conference

3. While the entire setup of a GoogleTV isn't going to be a breeze for non-techies, once it is ready to go, initiating or receiving a call is a breeze. The device also auto-configures itself if a camera is plugged in. A new user has to sign up for a Logitech account and is identified by an email address. Once set up, a user must "friend" the other party by entering their email address.

When someone calls, you simply answer. If you want to call someone, you add their email address to your list and click on them to initiate a call. The connection is almost instant and there aren't any options.

Logitech says the speed and quality are improved because most of the A/V compression is done on the camera hardware itself rather than on the Revue software. That's also why you can't just plug in any camera to the Revue and hope to get the same results.

Implications

While the Logitech Revue camera is clearly aimed at consumers, it wouldn't surprise me to see small or medium-sized businesses pick up a few Revue units for satellite offices or even as a remote use system. Coupled with a projector, you are a broadband connection away from a mobile HD video conferencing unit. Convention companies, take note.

The family room however is where this product, if marketed properly, should take off. Talking to family members on one of these devices will be an entirely new experience for many.

Future development

Logitech said that they have a few directions in mind for this hardware and software. The company is working on getting the Revue working with other chat systems, with priorities on Google Talk and Skype.

Nothing official has been announced, but they are working hard on making it work with other systems. Also, the Logitech Revue doesn't work with Sony's GoogleTV product, but they are working on that as well and expect to have compatibility with other GoogleTVs in the coming months.

My suspicion is that Google itself is working on a product that allows its customers to chat between desktop, mobile and TV that is native to the Android system. Once this system is realized, the Revue HD camera will be even more of a hot ticket.

The Logitech Revue ($299) and HD camera ($149) are available from Logitech direct, Best Buy and Amazon.

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About This Author
Seth Weintraub
Seth Weintraub

Google went from searching the Web to worming its way into nearly every facet of business and government. Seth Weintraub unveils where the company is going, who it's competing with, who it's about to compete with and how market forces push the company to veer or adhere to its Don't Be Evil motto. For 15 years, Weintraub was a global IT director for a number of companies before becoming a blogger.

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