Center Cam makes face-to-face communication more like heart-to-heart

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When I first saw Central chamberI wasn’t exactly impressed. I mean, look at this – it’s a webcam on a stick. Compared to high-end competitors from very well-established brands, with years of experience and nearly endless marketing budgets, it takes a particularly bold entrepreneur to launch something new in a highly commodified market. When it comes to photography, I’m not new to expressing stupid ideas, and I half expected the Center Cam to fall into that category. I was wrong; the camera is very simple, 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 talking to.

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

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Either way, you’re likely to be looking at the people you’re talking to, which means you won’t make eye contact with them – most people look too low to make eye contact. In business meetings, this may be fine, but there is a class of people who really struggle with it, and these are therapists, trainers and coaches. From experience, feeling connected to a therapist over Zoom is excruciatingly difficult. 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 a proper connection.

FaceTime has long been a feature that corrects your eyes a bit so it looks at what you’re looking at the camera, even though it’s not, and Windows 11 recently announced the launch of a similar feature. Frederick hates this and I understand why – it doesn’t look great. While this problem can be solved with software, I was very curious to see if a hardware solution would be better.

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Between mine main video light Specular and about $300 colored LED lights for my background, no wonder the camera got a bit confused about the white balance. Image credits: Haye Kamps for TechCrunch

In short: Yes. This is. Much better. The camera itself is a relatively high quality USB camera on a metal flexible hose and comes with a clip to secure it to the screen. Yes, it covers part of your screen when you use it, but it’s not as distracting as I thought. The camera has a USB-A connector and comes with a USB-C adapter in the box, so most computer users will be able to use it. There is no software included, but both my Mac laptop and my Windows PC found the camera and were able to use it without any issues.

The white balance on the camera was fooled by the colored lights I use for the background, but this was fairly easy to resolve by running the camera through OBS and manually adjusting exposure and white balance. Most users don’t have $900 lights to run their webcams on, so maybe this is an issue that’s unique to me – when tested in more normal lighting conditions, the camera performed as you’d expect, with image quality on par or slightly better. than the camera built into my M1 Macbook Air.

Position the camera roughly between the eyes of the person you are talking to, then look into their eyes. This creates the perfect illusion of eye contact, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced during video conferencing. Image credits: Haye Kamps for TechCrunch who is in desperate need of a haircut.

“I always wanted to be a consultant; this goes back to a real origin story when i was a teenager. I had people helping me and I always wanted to get back into it,” explains Ian Foster, CEO and founder of Center Cam. “I was finally graduating when 2020 arrived. It was my last semester and I was working with children just like I once was a teenager. I was a Deputy Counselor and when the pandemic hit, it meant I could no longer meet these kids in person. I switched to telecommuting right away. I’ve been on a lot of Zoom calls, but I haven’t really been on any of the ones that really got me excited. All of a sudden, I realized that technology was getting between me and the kids, and I started looking for ways to make it less sucky.”

In the process, Foster found the smallest USB security camera he could find and made prototypes by taping the camera to the screen. The prototypes themselves didn’t work very well, but he found the connection with his clients deepened, and he was motivated to continue experimenting.

“I spent a whole year developing the clamp, the flexible tube, and making incremental improvements,” Foster laughs, looking back at the early days.

A regular webcam and a few flexible tubes aren’t exactly a worthy product, but the company has found a deep connection with its audience nonetheless. The team claims to have shipped over 16,000 units to date and is currently working on a third internal version of the camera. This version has passive thermal fins on the outside of the camera to cool the image chip – a cooler chip means less noise, which means better image quality – and the company suggests it’s working on a complete redesign of the product that will look even better. .

“This is more than just a camera. We are trying to improve the technology as quickly as possible, but I think more than technology. People really want to feel connected to people. I was working on a master’s project: a documentary film about a healthy lifestyle in Alaska. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but the most important thing for me was the connection to the land and to each other. That’s where my heart was at the time, and then suddenly I had a relationship with these kids that I was working with, and it all just fell apart, ”Foster recalls. “It’s all become part of what we’re trying to do: improve communication. It’s not just a slogan. We are really trying to improve the quality of communication on the Internet. It is no coincidence that 15-20% of our clients are coaches or therapists.”

I was so ready to turn to 11 in this product review, but when I tried it, the little metal block won me over. I think this is the best webcam I have 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 degree of user friendliness. Also, the ability to maintain eye contact has a downside: if you’re the type of person who likes to take notes or hide a couple of tweets during meetings, it becomes very it’s obvious that you don’t pay attention to the person you’re talking to.

However, this product has one important feature: it does a better job of what webcams are supposed to do than most others. Helping people communicate from a distance.


Credit: techcrunch.com /

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