Now, all you need is a webcam, microphone, laptop computer and a widescreen television, along with one of the widely available teleconference solutions such as LoopUp, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Skype, RingCentral for Business or ClickMeeting. With these components, anyone can set up a complete videoconferencing system for a few thousand dollars. However, the problems with these solutions can include:
- Poor audio quality
- Poorly aimed video cameras with limited fields of vision — resulting in only a partial or no image of the speaker
- Complicated setup and implementation
The folks at Owl Labs have developed the Meeting Owl, which they say solves many of these problems with “plug and play simplicity.”
HOW IT WORKS
You connect the Meeting Owl with a single USB cable to your computer and point your browser to almost any major videoconferencing web platform. Then, you are ready to go. The idea sounded great to Bill, so he, with a big hootie-hoot call, spent $800 of his hard-earned money to buy a Meeting Owl.
We set it up in a conference room to test it out. We used it with Skype, Zoom and LoopUp. It was simple. And we like the design. It is a matte black device that looks like a smart speaker with a 360-degree camera placed on top. When it boots up, there are a pair status lights that blink on and off, and then become solid when the device is streaming video. It really does look like an owl ― it is a little freaky when the room is dark. We eagerly set up videoconferences between the two of us.
HOW IT’S DIFFERENT
We were very impressed. One of our major problems with many videoconferencing setups is the limitation of the microphones. In particular, with other devices, when the person speaking on a call is several feet away from the microphone, the quality of the audio suffers. In our experience with the Meeting Owl, the highly sensitive microphones have a range of approximately 12 feet all the way around the device. It also does a good job of canceling those annoying echoes. All of this is accomplished by an eight-microphone array around the circumference of the device, along with software that helps cancel echo and enhances the audio by using a 45-kHz sampling rate. So, the microphone array in the Meeting Owl remedied one of our videoconferencing concerns. But, we were most eager to test out the Owl’s video performance.
It has a 360-degree camera to go along with the 360-degree microphone set up. The native video resolution of the device is only 720p at 30 frames per second, but we found it to be more than adequate for a videoconference. What we really liked was the ability to see the entire room in which the Meeting Owl was placed. In the computer image for the videoconference, the 360-degree camera “stitches together” the entire image, so that you have a panorama of the room across the top of the display.
WHAT WE LEARNED
We were a bit disappointed, however, in the performance of one of the major features of the device. The device is designed to automatically focus upon and highlight each person speaking in a separate image below the panorama. Supposedly, it can highlight three speakers in the room at a time if they are all talking at once. We found this feature to be a bit erratic. Sometimes it focused on the speaker, and sometimes it did not. We are hoping that an update in the Meeting Owl’s software will remedy that problem. (It automatically updates when it connects to Wi-Fi.)
The bottom line is that we were impressed with the performance of the Meeting Owl, and we believe that it is well worth the $799 price tag. It is certainly much cheaper than several other 360-degree conferencing cameras. It works as well as any other similar device that we have seen. In the meeting room, participants can freely move around the room and interact much more naturally than is possible with a camera that has a fixed 180-degree view. So, if you are looking for a high-quality videoconferencing solution that has all of the bells and whistles (or hootie-hoots) you should need, you should wise up and get a Meeting Owl.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William Ramsey, Partner at Neal & Harwell, and Phil Hampton, Consulting President of LogicForce, are best known for The Bill and Phil Show.