As a telecommuting employee, I rely more and more on video conferencing for meetings and interviews with people at work (not to mention talking to friends, when I am desperate to interact with the real world). For years, the technology has been a step above the too-often cold and tone-neutral medium of emails, the awkward start-and-stops of the phone, or the limited chat box. But, as you know if you’ve ever Skyped anyone, it has its problems. It was hard to make eye contact, and the starts and stops could be maddening. As a writer, I frequently preferred jumping back to email, sore fingers be damned.
But there is a new generation of cameras that make the promise of easy, clear video meetings and cross-continental face-to-face interaction possible. One of these I tested is the Logitech c920, which is perfect for Skype. It has some problems with other systems, but overall, it makes me want to jump on a call. Let me take you through my experience.
Away from the Uncanny Valley
The first thing I noticed, when finally making the switch from the standard webcam embedded in my Toshiba Chromebook to the Logitech c920, was the movement of my eyes. Or rather, I barely noticed the movement, which is a huge difference. You know how when you look away, and then look back, there’s a split-second delay when you are staring at an image of yourself before your own eyes line back up? This is a weird disconnect, like looking in a mirror that isn’t quite looking back at you.
With the c920, that is reduced to practically nothing, erasing the uncanny valley of the webcam’s quasi-mirror. Instead, with its super-fast compression time and clarity, the c920 finally achieves what we’ve always wanted from our webcams: the chance to capture reality as it really looks.
Features of the Logitech Cam: Highs and Lows
The main highlights of the c920 are clarity, sound, and flexibility, but there are some issues if you aren’t using Skype. Let’s take a look.
- Ease of Use. All you need to do to start the c920 is plug it into a free USB port, and it will interact with the software you have on your computer. If you have Skype, the internal software in the camera will create a shortcut, which allows it to interact with your Skype account and become the default camera. If you are using Hangouts or Zoom or another system, you may have to manually switch. For some systems, you may have to download the software, which could potentially be a hassle for some users. It was certainly more annoying to use on my Chromebook, which isn’t Skype-compatible, than on my PC.
- 1080p for Skype. The c920 was basically built for Skype, and is actually the first camera that offers 1080p resolution for the world’s most popular video-chatting service. It’s amazing what a difference this makes. I was chatting with my boss, and she asked about the books on the bookshelf in the background. There was one spine that had caught her eye. Before, they were just sort of an undifferentiated mass. Now, it’s like she’s actually in my office. My main complaint, though, is that this clarity isn’t consistent. Depending on the brightness of the room you’re in, the camera will auto-adjust and the focus will bounce between blurry and crystal clear. This can be frustrating when you’re in a business meeting, watching yourself swim in and out of focus.
- Good Picture on Other Systems. I often use a Chromebook while working, and since that isn’t Skype-enabled I usually use Hangouts. (There are some workarounds for the web-based version of Skype, but since my work uses the Google Drive suite, Hangouts suits me just fine). Using the c920 with Hangouts doesn’t produce quite as clear a picture as using it with Skype, which is a little disappointing, and could be a consideration for Chromebook owners or those who avoid using Skype. However, the image quality, while not as good as with Skype, was still quite good–coworkers could actually see my face clearly. That garnered mixed reviews, but I can’t blame the camera for that.
- Sound Quality. One of the highlights of the c920 for me is the clear sound that comes from the dual speakers flanking the body. There is a real-life surround sound quality to it, which is nice to have during real-time chats, and fantastic during video playback.
- Video Feedback. Because I use the camera mostly for work, it helps me to record meetings so that I can go back and take notes, remember key points, cringe in embarrassment at seeing myself stammer out half-baked ideas, etc. A lot of cameras have clunky picture and sound during recording, but I was pleasantly surprised with the c920. It felt like a live chat, because the picture and the sound were so crisp. It didn’t make my ideas sound any better, but again, hard to fault the tech. The drawback is that, as with the picture, the playback isn’t as sharp if you aren’t on Skype–it’s actually pretty indiscernible from my built-in camera. So if you are planning on recording, you may want to go with Skype.
- A Flexible Body. It’s amazing how little innovations can seem so key when it comes to actually using them day in and day out. The c920 has a three-pronged clamping system that fits perfectly on a laptop, and you can adjust it up and down while still maintaining a firm grip. The camera itself can be tilted up and down, which gives you a wide range of motion. It is also set up to be placed on a tripod. One complaint is that it doesn’t have a wireless component, but the USB cable is long enough that it can snake down most desks to be plugged into a computer. Still, you might find it annoying to add more wires to your computer setup (or to sacrifice a USB port for a webcam).
Working remotely, I rely on webcams to do most of my personal interaction. I’ve used high and low-quality ones, usually relying on whatever is built into my computer. And you get used to existing as a jerky blur with moments of clarity. But using a camera like the c920 is revelatory. Everything is crystal clear–at least when the auto-focus isn’t acting up.
I’ve actually noticed that in teleconferences with my team or clients, they can see a huge difference when I use this webcam. It especially makes me wonder how I got along without having the 1080p clarity that the Logitech cam gives me in my Skype calls. Despite some hiccups, this little webcam helps you come across as your best self.