Editor's note: This is the final article in a 4 part series looking at the origins of the webcam, the commercialization of webcams and the concept of “webcam TV", the webcam of today and finally how new technologies are transforming these tools into what we at Huddly are calling the ‘collaboration camera.'
In writing this series on the history and influence of the webcam since its inception in the summer of 1991, I've developed something of an affection for this helpful little device as it starts to approach its 30th birthday.
The humble webcam rose from something of a novelty to become part of an elite category of products that can truly be said to have changed the world. Time Magazine classed it (specifically the Connectix Quickcam) as one of the top 100 gadgets of all time and it's not hard to see why. It has done as much as the radio or the telephone to bring us closer together and all our lives are richer for that.
The average webcam you find in the store today is, in many ways, not too far removed from its 20th Century ancestors. Sure, you'll find vastly improved specs, with higher resolutions, frame rates and processors, but for the most part the basic design is still the same - a <90˙ angle lens, no pan-tilt-zoom functionality, plug-and-play if you're lucky, image stability and quality issues...
Of course, today's world is very different to when the first webcams were designed. We work in very different ways now and have different demands and expectations of us. As we've discussed in earlier articles, telecommuting and dispersed teams are part and parcel of the modern workplace - a trend that is set to continue.
We expect much more from the tools we use in our everyday life now. We believe the webcam will come to be superseded by a new type of camera, personified by our first product, Huddly GO - the first of the next generation. We call it the Intelligent Collaboration Camera.
Webcam vs. Collaboration Camera: What's the difference?
Huddly GO is a very different prospect to the average webcam: an intelligent, small form factor, ultra-wide angle lens camera with a powerful embedded processor that is software-upgradable. That is to say, it is regularly updated with new, cutting-edge software features developed by our engineering department.
In short, it keeps getting better: most tech gets old fast, Huddly GO stays new.
To create a camera that can do all this is a big challenge. We built GO from the ground up, combining software, hardware and A.I. in new ways that enable it to deliver a user experience that is a huge improvement on what users of traditional webcams are used to. Our engineers and designers are experts in some of the most complex and exciting fields in computer science today.
Going forward, we hope to demystify many of these concepts here on the blog like Computer Vision, Machine Learning and convolutional neural nets amongst many others, but for now we'd like to start with the same question that our founders did: what problems do people have with existing webcam solutions?
I can’t get no webcam satisfaction
Over the past year, we’ve spoken with dozens of teams of all sizes across many industries about what challenges they have when it comes to video communication in their everyday work life. Throughout our research, there were 3 challenges that consistently kept coming up:
- “We can’t fit everyone in the picture”. Without a doubt, this was the number one frustration teams had. With a standard, narrow angle lens webcam, participants either have to manually move the camera or squeeze together to be seen. It’s difficult for everyone to feel part of a video meeting when you’re invisible - engagement gets lost and effective collaboration suffers.
- “My webcam is only suitable for one or two scenarios - we need more flexibility”. Most low-mid range webcams can often leave you looking unprofessional in bad lighting conditions, with a narrow angle lens that isn’t suitable for group conversations. Dedicated video meeting cameras are usually more costly, often fixed and require external power supply, extra cables or remote controls.
- “My webcam delivers poor and unreliable image quality”. We have become used to the limitations of standard webcams. Unreliable picture quality, poor performance in bad lighting conditions and low-resolution images leave people looking unprofessional and lead to a loss of important details.
Once we understood the nature of these pain points, we began to look at how we could apply new, breakthrough technologies to cameras in order to solve them. Software is central to applying those technologies, but as the great American computer scientist Alan Kay famously said "people who are really serious about software should make their own hardware". So that's what we did.
Starting with the end user in mind
Let’s be honest.
Webcams were not built for team collaboration.They were always primarily for one-to-one conversations. Bulky videoconferencing gear was developed to open up rooms but they were, and for the most part still are, expensive and not designed for flexibility.
As cool as both of these camera types are, the world for which they were designed has changed. As discussed in this previous article, the global economy is now made up of increasingly interconnected networks and these have created fast-paced collaborative environments in the every day workplace for millions around the globe.
Ironically, webcams and videoconferencing were the tools that enabled that change. Now, those environments have created the need for an evolution of the very products that created them, and the new kind of camera had to emerge.
From the beginning, we knew Huddly GO had to have:
- A very small form factor so it could be easily taken with you wherever you go and be mountable anywhere, easily.
- USB plug-and-play and platform agnostic so there would be no hassle in setting it up - it would just work instantly, no matter what device or software client you used.
- A very wide angle lens so it could capture everyone in the frame, even in very small rooms.
- High resolution video to capture important details.
- Digital pan-tilt-zoom to be able to focus in on what matters
- The ability to upgrade its software with new features to enhance the user experience.
With Huddly GO, we've been able to achieve that and more. We encourage you to go to to our product page where you can learn more about GO's design and features
Appearances can be deceptive
The small form factor and the USB compatibility of Huddly GO might remind you of a standard webcam, but don’t let that fool you. Here is the side by side comparison of Huddly GO vs. a standard high-end webcam of today.
Collaboration cameras have 3 distinct characteristics that differentiate them from any other video device:
- Collaboration cameras are built for teams, therefore they have an ultra-wide field of view.
To effectively collaborate, everyone needs to be seen - to have a seat at the table, as it were. Huddly GO's 150˙ angle lens delivers a remarkably wide view. And unlike most cameras with fish eye lenses that suffer from "barrel distortion," Huddly GO's adaptive real-time dewarping feature perspective-corrects the image in real time and delivers a true-to-life image that feels natural to the human eye.
- Collaboration cameras regularly add new features to simplify your workflow.
Software-upgradability adds enormous future value and is a huge leap forward from the previous generation of webcams. When a new update is released, Huddly GO can be upgraded with a single click to improve your experience with brand new collaboration features.
- Collaboration cameras adjust to the environments where YOU choose to collaborate with your team. Huddly GO's embedded mounting hinge easily attaches to any TV screen, laptop or monitor for flexibility in multiple scenarios. The dynamic light optimization feature auto-adjusts for lighting conditions so you'll always look your best, no matter where you are. As if this wasn't enough, we've added a visual noise filtering feature for an immersive, crisp image, so that you could enjoy your huddles on video from any place.
Bonus: Huddly GO even has a 180˙ auto-flip feature so you can mount it upside down if need be and still get the right picture.
Huddly GO was created to serve the needs of the 21st Century workforce. We built it for ambitious teams. For those who don’t put a limit on their ideas and what they want to achieve. So why would you put a limit on what a video camera can do? Bye-bye webcam! Hello, Huddly GO.