Center Cam helps eye-to-eye feel more like heart-to-heart – TechCrunch

When I first saw center cam, I wasn’t exactly impressed. I mean look at it – it’s a webcam on a stick. Against high-end competitors from very well-established brands with eons of experience and near-infinite marketing budgets, it takes a particularly brave entrepreneur to launch something new in a highly commercialized market. When it comes to photography, I’m no stranger generate stupid ideas, and I half-expected Center Cam to fall into that category. I was wrong; The camera is very basic, yes, but it solves a huge and fantastically overlooked problem in video conferencing: it’s almost impossible to feel a deep connection with the person you’re speaking to.

One of the things that helps people feel connected in conversations is eye contact, and when you think about how most webcams are mounted on your computer, it’s not hard to see why that doesn’t work – the camera is either on or (shudder… ) at the bottom of the screen.

Either way, you’ll likely be looking at the people you’re speaking to, which means you won’t meet their gazes – most people look far too deeply to make eye contact. In business meetings, that might be okay — but there’s a class of video conferencing people who really struggle with it, and they’re therapists, trainers, and coaches. Speaking from experience, it’s excruciatingly difficult to feel connected to a therapist over Zoom. The typical approach is to place the speaker window as close to the camera as possible and then make the window fairly small, but even then you won’t get the right connection.

FaceTime has been around for a long time a feature that slightly adjusts your eyes So it looks like you’re looking at the camera when you’re not, and Windows 11 recently announced it was introducing a similar feature. Frederic hates it and I understand why – it doesn’t look good. While it’s possible to fix this problem in software, I was quite curious if a hardware solution would be better.

between mine Main specular video light and about $300 worth of colored LED lights for my background, it’s no wonder the camera got a bit confused about the white balance. Photo credit: Haje Kamps for TechCrunch

In short: yes. It is. Much better. The camera itself is a relatively high quality USB camera on a flexible metal tube and comes with a clip to hold it securely on your screen. Yes, it does cover up part of your screen when you’re using it, but it didn’t feel nearly as distracting as I thought it would. The camera has a USB-A port and comes with a USB-C adapter so most computer users should be able to use it. There is no software included, but both my Mac laptop and Windows computer found the camera and were able to use it with no problems.

The on-camera white balance was tricked by the colored lights I’m using for my background, but that was resolved fairly easily by cycling through the camera OBS and manually adjusting exposure and white balance. Most users don’t have $900 lights to power their webcams, so maybe this is an issue unique to me – when testing in more normal lighting situations, the camera performed as expected, with image quality at eye level or slightly better than the camera built into my MacBook Air with M1 processor.

Place the camera more or less between the eyes of the person you are talking to and then look them in the eye. It creates a perfect illusion of eye contact unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in video conferencing. Photo credit: Haje Kamps for TechCrunch in desperate need of a haircut.

“I’ve always wanted to be a consultant; that goes back to the actual origin story, back when I broke up as a teenager. I’ve had a few people that have helped me and I’ve always wanted to come back to that,” said Ian Foster, CEO and Founder of Center Cam. “When 2020 came, I finally finished my studies. It was my last semester and I was working with children just like I used to as a teenager. I was a backup counselor and when the pandemic hit it meant I couldn’t meet with these kids in person. I immediately switched to remote. I’d attended many Zoom calls, but actually none that was that important to me. I suddenly realized that technology was getting between me and the kids, and I started looking for ways to make technology less annoying.”

In the process, Foster found the smallest USB-enabled security camera he could find and made prototypes by sticking the camera to the screen with tape. The prototypes themselves didn’t work that well, but he found the connection with his customers deepened and he was encouraged to continue experimenting.

“I spent a whole year developing the clip and the flexible hose and making incremental improvements,” laughs Foster, thinking back to the beginning.

A standard webcam and some flexible hoses isn’t exactly a defensible product, but the company has nonetheless found a deep connection with its audience. The team claims to have shipped more than 16,000 units to date and is currently on the third internal revision of the camera. This version has passive thermal fins on the outside of the camera to keep the image chip cool – cooler chip means less noise means better image quality – and the company suggests working on a full overhaul of the product that will look even better.

“It’s more than just a camera. We’re trying to improve the technology as soon as possible, but I think more than the technology. People really want to connect with people. I was working on a masters project: a documentary about the substance lifestyle in Alaska. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but the big learnings for me were the connection to land resources and each other. My heart was there at the time, and all of a sudden I had relationships with these kids that I was working with and it all just fell apart,” recalls Foster. “It all became part of what we wanted to achieve: a better connection. It’s not just a slogan. We’re really trying to improve the quality of online connections. It’s no coincidence that 15-20% of our clients are coaches or therapists.”

I was so willing to give the Snark an 11 on this product review, but upon trying it out, the little block of metal won me over. I think it’s the best webcam I’ve ever used. Not because the camera itself is incredible – it’s not. You don’t have to look far for better features, better picture quality and a higher level of usability. There’s also a downside to being able to make great eye contact: If you’re the type of person who likes to take notes or sneak in a tweet or two during meetings, it will very obvious that you are not paying attention to your interlocutor.

However, this product has one thing going for it: it does a better job than most other webcams. Helping people connect remotely.

Center Cam helps eye-to-eye feel more like heart-to-heart – TechCrunch Source link Center Cam helps eye-to-eye feel more like heart-to-heart – TechCrunch

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