Logitech TV Cam HD
Since the telephone first rose to prominence there has been chatter about the video phone. BT tried it years ago before there was even broadband - and before there was even ISDN - and it was always a flop. But it didn't fail because people didn't want it, it failed because a phone and video are not a natural pairing. Even on mobiles people don't generally make video calls, because it's awkward and uncomfortable.
If you want a good video call experience, you really have to be sitting down, comfortable, and preferably on a sofa. And that's where the Logitech TV Cam HD comes in. It is a single device, that simply plugs into an HDMI socket on your TV and provides you with the ability to Skype call anyone from your living room, and see them appear on your TV.
Turn your TV into a massive video phone
The idea of the TV Cam HD is exactly the same as any webcam you pop on top of your computer monitor. There's a leg that keeps it in place, allows you to position the camera and tweak the angle, and there's a power lead and an HDMI cable which lets the TV Cam turn your television into a video phone.
You'll also find an Ethernet connection here, should you wish to connect the TV Cam HD using a wired network. It has built-in Wi-Fi too, and we think most people will end up going for this option. Of course, if your wireless is a bit patchy, there are always homeplugs to consider, and they're generally ideal for this sort of thing, offering more reliability than wireless.
One of the things people we called noticed about the TV Cam HD was just how clear the audio quality was. The microphones - there are four - are placed on top, and are designed to capture your voice, while ignoring ambient sound altogether. In our experience, it worked well, and that's good news because video is one thing, but audio is far more important.
Video is good too, with our test subjects pleased that it produced widescreen video and it looked great. In fact, we were told that it was almost too good, and that our early morning hair and choice of home-working attire was a little bit too much for a video call.
The wide angle of the Carl Zeiss lens also means that you can see loads in a room. It's quite amazing how much you can fit in, even in a standard, compact, British living room. The shapness was superb, and the HD wide image look top-banana. It seems that Logitech has really spent a lot of time thinking about this hardware, and makes it work hard for its supper.
Don't expect the same as a PC Skype system
One thing we noted was that the TV Cam HD was very focused at video and audio. The other features of Skype are a little ignored. For example, the text-based chat and the ability to send and receive files are absent here. This is understandable, because there's limited memory and the way you interact with the TV Cam is quite restricted.
In practice though, this doesn't really matter as most people probably don't use the instant messenger element of Skype - it is, primarily a voice and video calling service after all. So bear in mind, if you're looking for chat, then the TV Cam is not the product for you.
Versus a laptop, tablet or TV
There are some distinct advantages to the TV Cam over a laptop or tablet, but it's not all good news. First, it's cheaper than a laptop, although arguably about the same price as a tablet. As a single-task device, one does have to question if it's a better purchase than, say, a Google Nexus 7, which will allow Skype video calls, but loads of other stuff too.
Of course, the biggest reason to chose the TV Cam HD is that it's simple to use. If you're buying for less computer literate people, it's a simple matter of popping it on top of the TV, plugging it in to the mains and HDMI and telling it about your Wi-Fi or wired network. For people who don't have, or want, computers, this is a good system.
Because it's on all the time - which might annoy some - it can ring without your computer being on. That means that no matter what's happening, people can call the TV Cam and it will alert you. PCs and tablets have to be on, with Skype running to do the same.
We've spoken too about the picture and sound quality too, which are both excellent here, and we love the fact that it sends a widescreen, HD image without any prompting, but it's the wide angle that sells this. You can get the whole family into the shot without much hassle. Great for family calls.
Of course, if you have a modern TV, many have Skype built-in. Some need an external camera (Sony, Panasonic) and some, like Samsung, sometimes have them built in. This is often a much cheaper way of getting Skype on your TV, although the quality won't be quite as good as it is on the Logitech.
A little bit too expensive perhaps, but as a tool too stay in touch, the TV Cam HD really is brilliant. If you have family that lives too far away to see, then this is the perfect way of staying in touch with them.
The advantages of Skype are obvious. Video calls anywhere in the world are completely free, and you can optionally pay for calls to foreign landlines or mobiles too, at rates that put BT to shame. The TV Cam HD is perhaps not a natural way to make voice-only calls, but it does boast excellent quality.
The wide angle lens, HD video and simplicity sell this camera well. It's expensive, yes, but it could also mean free video calls for ever, and there are not many devices that can claim to give such a tangible benefit. Based on audio calls, this device could pay for itself in no time at all if your family lives a long way away from you.