• Review: Logitech TV Cam HD

    Some form of Skype integration, either using a built in or add on webcam, seems to be a stock standard feature on Smart TVs these days. There are, however, far fewer options for those of us with a perfectly good, "dumb" HDTV who want to jump in on the Skype in the living room bandwagon.

    To fill that niche Logitech have released the TV Cam HD, which packs a 720p capable wide angle camera with Carl Zeiss optics, four noise cancelling microphones, WiFi (2.4Ghz 802.11g or n), Ethernet and a built in Skype app into a single easy to install device that sits above or below your TV set.

    Unlike the previous TV Cam, which was designed specifically for Logitech's ill fated GoogleTV offering, the TV Cam HD is designed to work with any TV as long as it has a free HDMI port and uses the, by now, standard Logitech hinged foot design which first made it's debut on the C910. There's also a standard tripod mount that, with the foot folded flat, will allow you to mount the TV Cam HD more securely or on a tripod.

    In the box along with the TV Cam HD itself you get an HDMI cable, a remote and the power supply. An ethernet cable would've been nice, but my guess is that most people would be connecting to a wireless network so it's not really a deal breaker.

    The setup itself was pretty straight forward. Once powered up the TV Cam HD runs you through a short setup process asking you to choose your connection type (WiFi or Ethernet), join a wireless network (if you chose WiFi), customise the camera setup and then sign in with or create a Skype account.

    An example of the TV Cam HD's user interface.

    Once you're signed in with your Skype account you're greeted by a clean easy to use Skype interface with options down the left hand side for viewing your profile, contacts, call history and voicemail, dialling phone numbers (if you have Skype credit of course) and adjusting settings. Logitech have clearly put a lot of work into their 10 foot UI which means most of your common tasks aren't more than two clicks away.

    The packed in remote is functional, if a little basic. There are a total of five buttons (Zoom In, Zoom Out, Back, Home and Ok) along with a four way directional pad which are enough to get you around the interface, answer and end calls and so on. Where it does get painful is when you're searching for a contact or entering your password. Thankfully when you sign out of an account your given the option of remembering your password so you don't need to type it in all that often.

    To be honest, I only used the packed in remote to set the unit up and make a few test calls before adding a Skype activity to my Harmony One universal remote.

    The TV Cam HD remote.

    Once I found where to add the TV Cam in the Harmony Software (it's buried under Home Automation -> Home Appliances -> Logitech) I was a little disappointed to discover that it doesn't integrate natively with the Harmony One. This isn't a deal breaker, it simply means that you have to set up a custom activity with generic icons and manually assigned buttons rather than the software automatically generating a new Skype activity for you. This is pretty much how it would work on any universal remote, but I was expecting more integration seeing as they're both made by Logitech. There is, however, one Harmony remote that does support the TV Cam natively and that's the recently released Harmony Touch. In hindsight I probably should've asked Logitech for a review unit of the Touch at the same time

    That said, once it's set up, it's pretty damn easy to use with the Harmony One and I far prefer it to using the stock remote, mainly because it takes two button presses to answer a call (one for the activity and one to hit answer) rather than using a separate remote for the TV, HDMI switcher and TV Cam. It's probably just because I'm more used to the Harmony One, but it also felt more comfortable to navigate the interface with than the packed in remote and typing passwords was a much less irritating affair.

    Over the past few months I've done a fair bit of travelling so I've been able to put the TV Cam HD through it's paces from both sides of the call. As always, Skype video quality varies based on your internet connection. Calling the from my MacBook Pro to the TV Cam HD on my home WiFi gave me a 720p video stream in both directions with no video artefacts or freezing. Calling in on the same MacBook Pro from a hotel WiFi network in Melbourne didn't give me a 720p video stream, but the video quality was still great. The only time I ran into any issues was on a call to my mom in New Zealand where the video would freeze every couple of seconds. Once we dropped down to audio only the call continued smoothly. Again, this was more about the internet connection on her end than the TV Cam HD itself and I've had similar issues calling her on a PC or Mac.

    Audio quality is generally pretty good, with the four noise cancelling microphones doing an excellent job of separating voice from background noise. At no point could the person on the other end hear themselves coming through the TV speakers, which was one of my initial concerns about the unit.

    Top: TV Cam HD video on my MacBook Pro
    Bottom: MacBook Pro video on the TV Cam HD*

    * If there's a camera, Fiona has to make a silly face at it.

    I will say though that room layout does make a difference to audio quality. Initially I had the TV at an angle with a wall on the left and nothing on the right. With this setup a few callers said I sounded hollow or far away. After re-arranging the living room for other reasons the TV ended up with a wall directly behind it and this improved the quality of my audio on the other end of the call.

    There are also a couple of really nice little features that make it a lot more practical to use. For example the TV Cam HD has a built in ringer speaker, so you can be watching TV or not have the TV on at all and still hear a call come in.

    This means, of course, that the TV Cam HD is online all the time so there's the potential to have time zone challenged friends or family trying to call you at 2 in the morning. Logitech saw that one coming a mile away and have built in a Do Not Disturb feature which will disable the ringer between the times you specify.

    There are also settings for automatically answering incoming calls (which would be good for a meeting room scenario) and answering the call by default with audio only or video as well, which is particularly handy if you have friends or family who want to call you before you've had that morning cup of coffee.

    The TV Cam HD also supports multiple accounts and switching between them is dead easy. As I mentioned before it'll remember your password, so you don't have to type it in again every time you switch accounts. Personally I've set up a joint account for my loverly fiancé Fiona and I so we don't ever really have to switch between our accounts. This also means that if either of us are away, we can ring the joint account from our own Skype account and know that we're going to get the TV Cam HD.

    While you can search for and add contacts through the interface, typing with a remote is still incredibly tedious and with no keyboard support you're better off signing in to Skype on your Mac/PC/iOS Device to do all your contact management. Unless you're adding/removing people constantly though, this shouldn't be too much of an issue.

    There are still a couple of nice to have features that aren't there yet. For example, there's currently no support for Group Video calling, which is a shame because it would make a great little teleconferencing unit for a small to medium sized business. There's also no support for video messaging which Skype has recently added, or for buying credit from the device itself (there are Buy Credit buttons sprinkled around the interface, but all of them display a page advising you to go to the Skype website). I did ask Logitech if any of those features were on the horizon, unfortunately they can't comment on future software releases but assured me that they're working to continually refine and introduce new features to the product.

    I'll be honest, I never really got the idea of Skype on the TV and I was pretty skeptical of the TV Cam HD when Logitech sent it to me. Having spent a bit of time with it I can now see the use cases now I can honestly say that it's a lot more inclusive and easier to engage with a group of people sitting in front of a TV Cam HD than it is with people crowded around a laptop. Overall it's a far more relaxed Skype experience but that's mainly because I have a comfy couch and a not so comfy office chair.

    The most obvious use case, and the one that Logitech play up the most in their slightly cheesy promo video, is for people with kids who's own parents are interstate/over seas. With a brand new niece in New South Wales I could definitely see us, and her grand parents, Skyping more if we had TV Cam HD's at both ends.

    I've also seen quite a few small to medium sized businesses who use Skype exclusively for video conferencing and have several meeting rooms set up using PCs and webcams plugged into TVs, I could definitely see these as a viable and relatively cheap alternative.

    Overall it's a fantastic little product and I like it a hell of a lot more than I thought I would…to the point where I'm considering getting one for the rest of our family on both sides. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to add Skype video calling to their "dumb" HDTV.

    The recommended retail prices is $249.95 but I've seen it for around $200 at Office Works and JB Hifi.

    Alec lives in rainy Brisbekistan with his lovely editor and soon-to-be wife, Fiona, who can't resist making a funny face when any sort of camera is pointed at her. By day he's a Cisco certified network engineer who deploys IP Telephony infrastructure from his trusty 2011 unibody MacBook Pro. You can normally find him lurking on the forums (formerly thatfilthyspringbok), follow him on Twitter, Google+ or on his blog, Inane Geekery.

    His opinions are all his own and do not reflect those of MacTalk or his employer.
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