3D is one of those things that enjoys regular revivals, and we seem to be sitting in the middle of one, not just the anaglyph type presented here, using the traditional paper glasses that we all remember from the 80s, but stretching to more sophisticated versions like those from Fujifilm and Philips that we saw last year.
The Novo Minoru 3D is a low cost webcam than brings this anaglyph action to your PC in the form of a 3D webcam. To create this 3D effect there are two lenses looking at you, so straight out of the box, the Minoru takes on a life of its own. You can’t help thinking there is a little robot peering at you, which is certainly cute, if you're into that sort of thing.
The stand has also been well designed, with two front legs and one back, meaning it can stand up, sit down a little flatter, but if you mount it onto your laptop screen, it looks like that little robot is clinging on with its little red arms so it can have a chat with you. Awwww, that’s worth £50 on its own!
But aside from the cute factor, the design does mean it is easy to talk to. Rather than staring down the lens of a webcam, you can talk straight to the camera and feel fairly natural doing it, because the lenses are spaced pretty much like human eyes. This also helps when it comes to making the 3D images, which we’ll jump straight into.
There is some set-up to get everything working. After hooking up the Minoru to a spare USB 2.0 port, you’ll need to install the accompanying software. If you want to deploy the 3D cam in a variety of roles, you’ll soon become accustomed to using the calibration tool. This basically sets your focal point where everything will take on the perspective as offered by the two colour technique.
This works well for a webcam, because your head, generally, is in the same place. The depth to the image just pops in, assuming you’re not sitting against a wall, which would be pretty pointless. It is recommended you sit about 1 metre from the camera for things to work the best. This then gives you the space to hold up objects in front of you and take advantage of that stereoscopic effect.
Of course there are lots of variables here, meaning you’ll have to run the calibration (basically pulling the vertical and horizontal images into alignment) as things change. But having done it a few times it becomes pretty easy to define how your 3D image is to look.
Of course you need to be wearing those 3D glasses to benefit from this, and five pairs of the paper type are provided in the box. If you are to be a regular user, you might want to invest in some more comfortable plastic ones, but at least you get some to hand around to your friends. You can then produce 3D images to your heart’s content, emailing them out, producing 3D videos or indeed using it as a webcam.
The 3D works best when there is little or slow movement. But a slow hand appearing can produce a nice 3D video. The higher quality settings also give you better results, and the camera can capture up to 800 x 600 pixels. There is also a growing quantity of this stuff on the likes of YouTube for you to browse.
Is it worth it? Well, it’s a lot of fun to play around with, but you have to be a real 3D, and anaglyph 3D nut to get the most from this. The downsides being that things are lacking in colour, movement is a bit of a mash and you’ll need to lovingly set things up for that wow factor. For many, the novelty will quickly wear off and prolonged use will probably lead to headaches.
Perhaps the fact that you can use the Minuro as a normal webcam will swing the balance back in its favour. It works well enough, but the same motion problems do blight it and it really suffers with contrasty shots. It handles low light well enough, but if you happen to sit side on to a window then the camera really struggles to cope, failing against more expensive, dedicated, webcams.
A bit of a niche function is being able to do picture in picture, using one lens for your main picture and the other for a close up. An interesting option, but one that perhaps lacks purpose when you can simply hold up the object in front of the main lens anyway. It would have been cool to be able to rotate one eye around, perhaps to focus on another person for a group conversation, but alas, you cannot.
You also have to consider that the two lenses mean that it is double the size. Perhaps that doesn’t matter because this little critter will be best suited to a static deployment, rather than being lugged all over the world in your business luggage.
But with simple operation, and bags of novelty factor, you can’t help looking at the Minoru and smiling. Even if that smile is slightly discoloured and a little jerky, it’s 3D! Talking to friends with Skype in 3D is loads of fun and you can always knock it back to 2D for more serious purposes.