Logitech has attempted a new approach with its latest webcam. The QuickCam Sphere follows you as you jostle around your desk. But does it work? We dance like a dervish and put it to the test.
In the future we’ll all talk face to face, none of this instant messaging stuff, no learning what the “7” key represents in a text message (that’s L337 meaning “elite”, folks- sub-Ed) no “l8r m8” or “lol”, “rotfl” and “rtfm” phrases to decode. Life will be simple - all apart from you having to sit in a rigid position as you stare into your webcam. Perhaps the future isn’t so bright. Perhaps we should keep with the text messages and phone calls? Logitech however has different ideas and with the QuickCam Sphere hopes to bring webcam correspondence back to life with a web camera that tracks your movement. Why, I hear you ask? - so you can move around to your heart’s content without being out of the picture.
Styled in a black casing the bubble like unit is fairly sleek and looks more like a kitchen timer from an expensive designer shop or Sunday supplement catalogue than the latest in video conferencing. Perched on a smallish base it can be raised in height by an addition 22cm post enclosed in the box. The footprint is still the same, and the extended webcam soon takes on an alien War of the Worlds feel. A 2.7m USB lead in the box means there is enough cable to place it anywhere on your desk.
Turn it on and you get a decently specified webcam that can record video up to 640 x 320 and still snap shots of 1280 x 980. White balance can be set according to your situation and there are five settings including outdoors for you to choose from. All the other setting you would expect to see are featured. Brightness, contrast, saturation, gamma control, and black and white are all present and with the ability to capture up to 30 frames per second- so nothing seems missing.
Flick the software switch to enable tracking and the device will try its hardest to keep your face in the centre of the screen. Move around and the camera moves with you up to 180º tilt and a 60º pan. For the user that likes to duck and dive you can also set the zoom to track as well and this will make sure you head is roughly the same size all the time.
While this sounds like a fantastic idea in tests the webcam was slow to keep up. If you move at a sloth’s pace then you can just about get away with it, yet every so often you find yourself looking at the feedback monitor to see that all the camera is displaying is your left shoulder. Furthermore during a web chat session fellow correspondents complained of a dizzy feeling as the camera did its best to re focus and re zoom as we bobbed and weaved.
The QuickCam Sphere has a good stab at trying to resolve an age-old problem with webcams in that people like to move about when they talk. Talking with video is not just about the voice its about body language. However for the extra money, this just doesn't seem worthwhile. Yes it's a good web camera, but then so are the other more traditional cameras that Logitech make such as the basic Quickcam Express. You can't help feel that this is a gimmick rather than something that will be employed in offices for the next five to 10 years. It's good but doesn't really cut the mustard in such a tough market.