The best conference webcams are very different for the standard webcams for home working. They typically allow a whole room to participate, using 360˚ cameras with smart cameras and microphones can connect a whole table of people automatically. This guide will help you choose the right one, and find the best deal.
Over 2020 we all learned the advantages of video conferencing, whether it was from home alone or in teams, for work or for family events. It’s very likely you’ve got used to Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facetime, and Messenger, but with an ordinary webcam you usually have the camera fixed in one place, perhaps atop the monitor, which makes it difficult for several people to get around the meeting table.
The solution is conference cameras which can work with your favorite conferencing apps, but use automatic face detection and conference-grade microphone and speaker to make the call a clean and clear experience for even the least technically able person on the call. Sure, an automatic camera could make a remote presentation look professional and keep it engaging, but that technology can be just as useful at keeping up with excitable grandchildren without losing the network connection.
As well as panning, resolution is a factor, though you may find improvements above 1080P is harder to distinguish than you might expect. 720P to 1080P to 4K roughly doubles in detail each time, but make sure you have the necessary network bandwidth.
Note, too, that some cameras make use of digital zoom and perspective correction which can be apparent in the footage; expensive PTZ cameras which track their subjects using optical technology tend to have the jump in terms of sharpness. You’ll also need something to handle sound (including noise cancellation); some larger rooms call for multiple speakers.
This meeting camera shows how useful a built-in operating system can be in simplifying the meeting process. While the device itself is built to sit table-centre in a medium-sized meeting room (up to 18ft/5.5m sound pick up), what’s really handy is that it can connect, via HDMI, directly to a wall-mounted display. Using the remote, you can use the display’s menu screen to choose your preferred conferencing app (if it works on Android, it works here). You can even keep the apps up-to-date via the 802.11ac wi-fi or Ethernet and even attach peripherals via USB. The Meeting Pro will act as speaker and microphone, and sports echo and noise cancellation to keep your call clear. It’s possible your colleagues might find the knowledge that there is 64Gb on-board recording space a little unsettling, but the ‘stop’ button is easy to find. The machine’s 8 microphones help it do a good job of identifying the active speaker for the 1080P video output. The camera crunches through 8K worth of input from both cameras which helps people look their best (less distortion correction than some).
The Meeting Owl was a successful product, picking up several awards for its cute (but not too cute) design, capped with a 360˚ camera and equipped with the software to identify team members who are talking and give them centre stage. Along the top (unless disabled in the options) is a thin strip showing a perspective-corrected strip of the whole-room view; in both cases the images are considerably more flattering than from a shorter camera thanks to the 273mm body height (nearly 11 inches), and the sound is capably handled by the 8 mics which also help locate the subject (and boast a good pick-up range of 5.5m / 18ft). The ‘Pro’ is the newer version, with a more powerful processor, better resolution and louder speakers without too significant a price bump. Camera lock is controlled via a phone app, which is a slightly convoluted solution compared to a remote, but well featured and the device is always popular.
With a built-in rechargeable battery and Bluetooth connectivity, the Logitech Connect makes sense in a lot of environments where fixing a camera might not; many offices have more meeting rooms than they have conferencing cameras, or you could take one to conduct a site meeting and share it live with the main office. You can plug into a laptop via USB, or your phone with Bluetooth and all but the most intensive meetings should cope with the 3 hours of video or 15 hours audio the battery will provide (though don’t worry, Logitech still provides plugs). The remote control, when not serving as a magnetically attached lens cover, provides pan, tilt and zoom, though there are no auto-tracking features. This is an elegant device, with features like NFC and can make friends with Chromebooks as well as Macs and PCs, and will not disappoint in rooms up to six people. (If you appreciate Logitech’s tech but would like to save on wireless functionality, check the Logitech BCC950).
Like the Meeting Owl, this Coolpo sports a 360˚ panoramic camera on top of a tall body which, thanks to built in speakers and four intelligent mics can automatically track the active participant in the meeting, outputting one or more active views and a thin strip of the whole room (the camera is a single lens, looking up, with a 200˚ field of view). If you can place it in the middle of the room, it’s well suited to a huddle-sized meeting table of about 7 people (assuming you have a screen on one wall) with about 15ft / 4.5m sound range. It has broad compatibility in terms of platforms (including WebEx, Cisco, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, MS Teams) and – though it looks like a waiter might use it to offer you pepper at any moment – it’s still pretty handsome. If there is a flaw, the subject tracking seems to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach, framing the round face of even a clock rather than dropping back to two cameras.
The Rally camera is a Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) camera which uses Logitech’s RightSense technology to automatically frame every participant. It also boasts good-quality low-light and tone control technology which prioritizes faces, no bad thing when you’re under office lighting. The camera is sold on its own, or as part of the Logitech Rally Plus system, which includes a display hub with a pair of stereo speakers and a smaller table hub to which you can connect microphones . To make setup easy, the cables and devices come stickered (though you can use a much longer Cat6A cable to connect the hubs if you choose). A nice touch is that the mic pods can be daisy chained, making fitting to different sized rooms easy, and while the remote only has two presets it is good to see a little more urgency in camera movement when one is chosen compared to gentle panning from the directional pad.
This camera is ideal for meeting rooms where the table touches the same wall as a display. It can be positioned beneath the screen and get a full 180˚ screens-eye view of the whole room so no participants are excluded. Connection is via an optional hub or directly to your computer via USB (the later affording decent portability with a laptop). The system seems to do a good job of blending video from each of the lenses, though you can also opt for ‘intelligent’ mode which zooms into areas of video with movement in (sit too still too long in a meeting and you might get cropped!). Although the device states it’s 4K, it’s worth noting that the reality is that each lens has a 13-megapixel sensor but the camera will zoom past pixel parity so you may see resolution softening on close ups. If you’re not sure you want to share your whole room, Jabra have you covered too; you can choose various fields of view down to 90˚ via the Jabra Direct software.