PHOENIX - Webcams have changed the way we connect with loved ones. We share many of life's important events digitally, via programs like Skype, Facetime and Google+.
Problem is, there's nothing elegant or easy about crowding your family around the family laptop. It's awkward and often an exercise in frustration.
The TV Cam HD from Logitech aims to make a Skype video call an effortless part of your living room TV. I had a chance to test it out.
The Logitech TV Cam HD for Skype is an all-in-one device that sits on top of your HDTV. You do not need a computer to use the TV Cam HD. It has a tripod mount or clips to most HDTVS with the flip-out clip. It feels sturdy and attached to all the TVs I tried without any problems. It's a solid piece of hardware and I never felt like it would slip and fall.
Setup is simple. Connect the power cable to an outlet and the HDMI cable to your HDTV. It has an ethernet jack for Internet but also has built-in WiFi. I connected the TV Cam HD to my WiFi network using the included remote. Once connected, I signed into my Skype account and my contacts appeared on the screen.
The built-in HD camera has a nice wide angle lens so the entire family can crowd around the TV and everyone will be in the shot. There are 4 microphones on top creating an advanced system that can cancel out echo and background noise. It worked well in my tests. Callers on the other end had no problem hearing me clearly even when I was standing 10 feet away from the camera.
There's also a speaker on the back of the device. This means if someone calls you while the TV is turned off or you're watching something on TV, you'll still hear it ring. I like this feature. It's like the home phone we all had in our kitchen growing up except it's a video phone and it's in our living room.
The best part about the hardware of the TV Cam HD is that it looks elegant. It's a sleek black plastic and will fit right in with most living rooms. If you have a shiny black HDTV, most people won't even notice the camera is sitting on top.
As I mentioned, setup on the software side was simple. You'll have to use the included remote to type usernames and passwords. This isn't always easy since you have to use the directional buttons on the remote to navigate an on-screen keyboard. Luckily, once you setup your account, it can automatically log you back in.
Making and receiving calls is self explanatory and works just like you would imagine. The Skype experience is exactly what you would expect on a big screen TV. Simple and to the point. I do wish it supported other formats like Google Talk or Apple Facetime.
How did it work?
For 720p video calls Logitech recommends a minimum data speed of 1.2 Mbps upload and download. I tested it on my Centurylink DSL which provides about 8 Mbps download but only .8 Mbps upload.
None the less, it worked well. Call quality was good and the callers on the other end did not report any major glitches.
When I tested out the same camera on another slower network it was clear that quality can quickly decrease.
On top of the technical limitation with slower speeds, you'll notice the digital artifacts even more because you're blowing the video call up on a big screen.
Skype does a good job of adjusting call quality for various speeds but there's no way for it to deliver HD clarity if your connection stinks.
This isn't a problem with this specific product, it's an issue with using video over broadband. My recommendation is that if you plan to do a lot of video calling, pay extra and get the faster broadband connection. It'll make a big difference.
Other than the speed issues, the TV Cam HD worked great. Audio sounded good and everything was painless. The great thing about the TV Cam HD is that it takes the complication out of making a Skype call and lets you get connected with just a few button pushes.
For $199.99 the Logitech TV Cam HD for Skype isn't cheap but you have to remember it's essentially a tiny computer. This is a great buy for anyone who uses Skype on a regular basis and wishes it was easier to take the experience into the living room and onto the big screen. It's also the perfect gift for that family member who lives far away and wants to join in on the fun via broadband.
You can find the Logitech TV Cam HD for Skype online and at most local electronics stores.
Have you tried other solutions to get video calling out of the office and into the living room? Let me know how you do it by continuing this conversation in the comments below, on my Facebook page or on Twitter .