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Technology Showcase: Document Cameras

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney

The latest models have evolved into multifaceted communication tools.

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Qomo HiteVision QD6100SX

Qomo HiteVision QD6100SX

There's a scene from the WWII spy movie 5 Fingers where über-suave James Mason, code-named “Cicero,” pulls a tiny Minox camera out of his jacket to snap copies of top-secret diplomatic messages in the British embassy. Now that was a document camera.

But over the ensuing years, the term “document camera” has evolved considerably. With celluloid film long superseded by electronics as a means of conveying their images, the idea of a document camera came to reside in webcams that were employed as a replacement for overhead projectors to let presenters show papers and objects to their audience.

Early document-camera models that appeared in the '70s consisted of a still, black-and-white analog videocamera flanked by a couple of lights shining onto a surface of the viewing area beneath the camera. Notes could be scribbled on the paper that was sitting on the illuminated surface to accompany the image on the wall, but that was about it. The result? Boredom.

The problem was the image was not distinct enough to be a substitute for seeing the real thing if a 3D object was involved. And seeing a piece of paper projected on a wall was like, well, seeing a piece of paper on a wall.

But with the advent of digital imaging and high-resolution cameras matched by HDTV displays, excitement has once again entered the document-camera arena — except they are rarely called “document cameras” anymore.

Today, they are most often referred to as “visualizers,” “object display stands,” or “presenters,” among other terms. They can range from a 3lb. ultra-portable model to a 30lb. conference-room unit. Although they can function by themselves, modern document cameras are often used as integrated components of interactive-whiteboard presentations.

The cameras themselves are increasingly benefiting from high-definition resolutions in the higher-end versions and trending toward moving-video capabilities. Some are even offering realtime 30fps motion images in full-HD 1080p. When interfaced with the information resources of a computer that is linked to the Internet, these photo-optic devices that allow a presenter to put an image of the object under discussion up onto a big screen in front of an audience can lend significant punch to any presentation.

Thanks to support from government funding, the major market for today's implementation of document cameras is in education. A growing number of corporate training centers, auditoriums, and boardrooms are also adopting this communication tool for local presentations and for multisite broadcast to facilities anywhere their secure networks or the Internet can reach. Here is a look at some of the most innovative progeny of a technology that started as a simple document camera and has evolved into a multifaceted adjunct to realtime, audience-involving communication.

The AVerVision SPB370 from AVerMedia can output 1080p full-HD images from its complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) 5-megapixel color sensor through a 20X Aver Optical Zoom. This combines an 8X optical zoom with 2.5X AVerZoom while still maintaining the ability to pan. The IP-network-addressable capability of the AVerVision SPB370 enables users to connect and view live visualizer presentations from virtually any location where Internet access is available. It includes an 8”×10” light box; dual VGA output ports for outputting images to two displays; and audio pass-through, thanks to its mic/in and audio/out ports. The software that comes with the SPB370 enables you to annotate, capture images, record video with audio, and control the features and functions of the visualizer. Images can be captured to the document camera's internal memory, an SD card, a USB flash drive, or directly to a PC or Mac.

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