Review: Affordable videoconferencing for real conference rooms
- 24 April, 2014 23:12
With integrated AV gear now routine on notebooks, desktops, and mobile devices, third-party videoconferencing products generally support small groups whose participants can be captured by wide-angle or swiveling cameras atop audio gear. But unless you're willing to spend a small fortune on elaborate telepresence systems, there's little available for slightly larger groups at larger tables -- say, up to 10 folks seated in a boardroom or midsize conference room.
The Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e tackles these scenarios with a high-performance camera and separate audio unit, each connected with 16-foot cables to a small hub that in turn connects to a PC or Mac via a 10-foot USB cable. The audio unit also connects via either Bluetooth or NFC to mobile devices, for streaming voice calls only.
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At $1,000, the CC3000e is a lot more expensive than most third-party webcams -- including Logitech's own $250 ConferenceCam BCC950. But products at these price points simply can't support the size of room the CC3000e can serve.
The system is application-agnostic. The CC3000e works with any videoconferencing software that runs on Windows or Mac computers, from corporate UC applications (such as Microsoft Lync) to free apps such as Cisco WebEx, Google Hangouts, and Skype. It comes with a remote control that can adjust audio and video up to about 10 feet away. The controls -- both audio and video -- are also available on the audio unit.
Setup in my tests went smoothly, although hooking up the many cables -- from camera to hub, speaker/mic unit to hub, AC adapter from hub to outlet, and hub to a Windows 8 notebook -- was a bit time-consuming. Once everything was linked, I merely had to go into the notebook's or videoconferencing app's settings to choose the ConferenceCam CC3000e's camera, speakers, and microphone.
In Skype, the camera by default chose a panoramic view of the conference table (the field of view is 90 degrees). But one of the camera's best features is the ability to pan (up to 260 degrees), tilt (up to 130 degrees), and zoom in on (up to 10x lossless zoom, per Logitech) individuals or objects such as whiteboards.
With support for 1080p video at 30 frames per second and video processing handled by the camera itself, the CC3000e delivered smooth video. Depending on the bandwidth available for video streaming and the hardware on the receiving end, it sometimes took a few seconds for the fully detailed image to appear remotely, but overall the image quality was quite good.
Audio was also good regardless of where in the room a participant sat, thanks to the router-sized audio unit's two omnidirectional microphones. The speakers produced robust stereo sound from remote participants.
The product comes with hardware for mounting the hockey-puck-sized hub underneath a table and for mounting the camera on a wall, though the latter might cause problems when you're running the cable to the hub (you don't want people tripping over the cable). One reason to consider wall-mounting the camera is the line-of-sight requirement for the remote: If the camera isn't elevated, it's too easy to block the signal with random objects on the table (say, a coffee mug or backpack). I also wished the product would have afforded AV controls from the computer running the videoconferencing app.
You can change the camera's default startup view no matter what software you use, but some other features depend on the videoconferencing application. For example, participants using Lync 2013 can install a software add-on that allows the remote user to manage the camera controls. With Cisco Jabber, Lync 2013, Skype, and Vidyo, you can also add hardware support for initiating or ending calls. In addition, Logitech provides a diagnostic app that it recommends using to verify setup.
Overall, the Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e delivers reasonably well on its mission to make audio and video from meetings in a midsize room accessible to remote participants. Users may experience a bit of lag during camera view changes, managing cable clutter may be an issue in some locations, and a companion control app for PCs and mobile devices would be a welcome addition. But if you're looking to bring videoconferencing to a conference room, the CC3000e does the job at a fraction of the cost of a high-end telepresence system.
- Supports larger groups than most third-party videoconferencing gear
- High-res camera provides excellent video at up to 10x lossless zoom
- Works with just about any videoconferencing software that runs on a PC or Mac
- Affordable alternative to high-end telepresence systems for many purposes
- Remote control range is limited
- No software AV controls
- Cable clutter
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