Logitech Brio - Do You Need a 4K Web Cam?

7 Feb 2017

Yesterday Logitech announced their new Brio web cam with a 4K capability along with other new features. I have not been a strong 4K advocate generally, as the human eye is only capable of seeing a 2K rectangular image, so I was interested to see why a 4K camera is interesting. But, the Brio camera is much more than just a 4K image sensor. It includes HDR for wider contrast range, IR sensors that integrate to Intel RealSense and the capability to deliver 60 frames per second in 1080P HD. It is also certified with major UC vendors like Microsoft and Cisco. The combination delivers outstanding value for the $50 additional list price that the Brio carries over an equivalent 2K (1080P) camera. To better understand the value, I will review each capability and what they mean for enterprise UC users.

First is that 4K camera. While I generally see 2K as sufficient, the reality is that 4K has a place in enterprise video conferencing. In the whitepaper, "Video Conferencing Display System Sizing and Location," the parameters for a successful videoconferencing room are detailed. A key point is that there is a reason for 4K displays in a conference room. If the display is sized to be of sufficient size for the farthest participant (the head of table), the participants seated closest to the screen will be close enough that, just as in a theater, 4K is required so they do not see visible pixel structure. Similarly, as Cisco and Microsoft have demonstrated with their boards/hubs, 4K is required for touch screens.

If a 4K display is used and a single video is being displayed at full screen, then having a 4K image will enhance the experience. While this may be minimal, the bigger value of 4K is zoom. The Brio includes a 5x digital zoom. With 4K, a 5x zoom will still have a 2K image in the zoomed space. This has value in two ways. In pre-transmission, it enables the camera to zoom and then send the zoomed image at 1080P. While this may have limited value on the desktop, it will be valuable if the Brio is used as a low-cost room camera or for groups using it with a PC. The Logitech team indicated they are working to have zoom control built into popular UC apps. A second value is zoom in post-production. For example, a video of a training session that is recorded at 4K can be zoomed into the interesting area as the final video is being generated, retaining 2K video quality. Both have potential values.

The second major value is the 60 frames per second (FPS). A challenge with video processing is latency. In VoIP, the average packet is transmitted every 20 msecs. At 30 FPS video, that is 33.3 msecs. When video is processed through a MCU or transcoding, the latency can get large and introduce issues (read the VoIPmaggeddon white paper for more details). By going to 60 FPS, the sample is reduced to 16.5 msecs, dramatically decreasing overall latency and improving the experience, a capability that was emphasized at the recent Cisco event. The capability of the Brio to participate at 60 FPS is significant. Quite frankly, if the choice is between 60 FPS and 4K, I think 60 FPS wins, especially as it will use less network bandwidth.

The HDR wide range contrast is an important feature. Most desktop video locations do not have adequate lighting and/or have significant side light sources such as a window. These light sources tend to wash out one side of a face, while the other is in shadow. This is dramatically exacerbated by the limited dynamic contrast range of typical cameras. The HDR significantly increases the contrast range which has the effect of making the scene much more natural.

Finally, the camera has the built-in infrared IR sensors that integrate to Intel RealSense. RealSense creates an IR image that includes depth and 3D structure. This has been incorporated into Windows Hello to enable face recognition as an identifier, eliminating log-in passwords. To date this capability has only been available on a very limited set of PCs (SurfacePro and a few other models). By integrating it into a camera, it can be easily retrofitted to a range of devices.

When all of these capabilities are added up the $50 premium for Brio seems very reasonable, in fact, it might actually be called a bargain. A Brio camera includes the features and capabilities for the next generation of apps and solutions, but is available today. For anyone considering a personal web cam purchase or evaluating cameras for use in a modern UC deployment, the Brio should be on your short list to evaluate. At least one of the features should have value today, and all will probably see use and value in the next couple of years.


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