DeSales University welcomes 360 degree videoconferencing
Everyone has been to dozens of online meetings where we’ve heard a presenter and viewed his or her presentation. The usual two-dimensional event is sometimes dull with a talking head and maybe a few other people getting up to present. Now we have the MAXHUB UC M40, a self-containing tracking camera that recognizes faces wherever they might be in the room and follows them with three hundred sixty degrees of coverage. If one hundred eighty degrees of coverage is sufficient, the monitor mounted MAXHUB M31 USB Panoramic Camera fits the bill.
The MAXHUB UC M40 is basically a 2.5-inch diameter cylinder with a camera on each of the four sides. This 7.5-inch-tall unit captures the visual and audio portion of your meeting. With a microphone on the top and loudspeaker on the bottom, it connects to your computer via a USB-A to USB-C cable and is powered by an AC Adapter and through the USB-2 cable. Download the PanoCAM Studio software and you can begin your meeting.
The rear of the UC M40 has the USB input directly above the DC power port. The front has a Mode Switch which allows you to select one of eight options: Panorama, Two Screen, Quarter Screen, Discussion, Speaker, Presentation, Presenter, and Custom Mode. On the top of the UC M40 is a microphone icon that illuminates white when on, and red when muted. One of four blue LEDs will light – indicating the direction of the sound.
The second device I’ll be reviewing is the MAXHUB UC M31 USB Panoramic Camera which can be mounted on a wall with the included bracket or on top of a monitor for a 180-degree field of view. With three 12MP UHD cameras, the unit will track any movement. Like the UC M40, the Panoramic Camera is self-contained and is powered by a USB cable.
The front of the unit has three lenses that follows and tracks the action and a small pinhole microphone on the right and left – directly above the white LED strip. The rear has two ports – a USB Host input and a USB – C input that attaches the Panoramic Camera to your computer. The PanoCAM Studio software operates with this device too.
Right out of the “box” the MAXHUB UC M40 couldn’t be easier to set up and use. Choose the plug adapter that fits your area and connect the USB cable from the UC M40 to your computer. On my MacBook Pro, plug in the system and install the PanoCAM Studio software on my desktop. Once installed, Manual Selection opens and you can choose Face Detection, Picture in Picture, Auto Detect,Auto Tracking, and an adjustment for Optimal Camera View Angle. If you desire, you can go directly to the main screen showing your camera’s view.
My MacBook Pro listed the UC M40 as one of the cameras, in addition to the screen’s built-in camera. Selecting the UC M40 as my camera of choice, I could use any platform to begin my meeting.
Wanting to try the UC M40 with my production class, I used the 360-degree feature because one of my students couldn’t attend and needed to attend the class via Zoom. Setting the UC M40 on a table in the center of our TV Studio, one camera faced the other students, one camera faced me, the third camera faced the 4K projection scene behind the table, and the fourth camera would capture me when I walked to the other side of the room – I had full coverage. Plugging the USB cable into my computer, the UC M40 immediately powered up – I hadn’t even plugged in the AC. Running just on the USB cable, I couldn’t use the mute function and the top portion never illuminated. Using the AC adapter, I now had this control. When the recorded Zoom meeting ended, the view my homebound student saw was a thin, panoramic bar across the screen (Photo: Gloman UC M40 1). All four images were stitch together.
Going into ProCAM Studio, I changed the display layout and saw the differences on my screen, but the end user still had a narrow band from me.
In my second set-up with the UC M40 included two students seated side by side in a conference room attending a Zoom Meeting with a third student at a different location on campus (Photo: Gloman MAXHUB 2). Set in Presentation Mode with Auto Select on, a green box followed Sophie and Zac’s faces as they talked and moved. Beginning the lecture and standing behind them, the camera also tracked my movement as I walked. Both students were more interested in the camera following me than the lecture material. Honestly, glancing over their shoulders at the scene, I was distracted by the camera following me too!
Wanting to try the various modes, I began with Manual Mode which enabled me to zoom into a specific area. If I had more participants, I would use the Body-Fit Mode so each player could be identified. If the participant needed to be in their separate corners or quadrants, then Quad View/Grid Mode should be your choice (Photo: Gloman MAXHUB 3). Speaker Mode shows everything that’s going on in the room.
Again, the only time I needed to use the AC for the device was if I wanted the mute feature enabled. The viewing options were determined by the PanoCAM Studio software. All of the UC M40 actions happened immediately without any lag.
Using the MAXHUB UC M31 USB Panoramic 180-degree camera for a Zoom Meeting, I clipped the unit to the top of our 55-inch monitor in the conference room. Giving the lecture, I paced along the front of the monitor to see if the one of the three cameras would keep me framed. A thin green box followed me as I moved. Sophie, in an adjacent conference room, sat at her laptop and used its built-in camera to display her image on my monitor (Photo: Gloman MAXHUB 4), and she viewed my lecture on her screen which came from the UC M31 (Photo: Gloman MAXHUB 5). After the thirty-minute meeting ended, the UC M31 camera was quite warm. You have two viewing modes – PanoCAM Studio or your online meeting software. After I had the camera adjusted with the PanoCAM Studio software, I kept it running in the background and used the Zoom platform with no issues.
Even when the novelty of facial tracking wears off, you still have an amazing tool to include everyone in your meeting. The custom features allow you to fine-tune what’s seen, and my students were speechless (very rare) with how the technology functioned. Rarely, when the class or meeting is over do I need to remind them to leave. As they continued to see if they could trick the camera into not following their movements (they couldn’t), I had to remind them that they had other classes and would be able to use the MAXHUB equipment later.
Both the MAXHUB UC M40 and the UC M31 are extremely easy to use with virtually no set-up involved except adding the software. Using online meeting platforms, just select the MAXHUB unit as the camera, set your viewing mode, and begin your meeting. I can easily see this as a viable option for groups of four or more where each person desires on-camera time. Even if the participant gets up and moves, the camera(s) will easily and instantaneously track movement.