Eye contact in video conferencing

Very soon high definition USB web cameras will be an affordable solution for information workers to consider their addition as a tool for collaboration.  Right now some of the same information workers, like me, will be using medium resolution web cameras for conferencing.  But at the moment we all face the same problem…the screen.  We need to look at it to interact with other parties and thus the camera is not in eye contact.

on the monitor Camera on my monitor

under the monitor Under the monitor

It doesn’t take long looking at the top of my head or my chin and not getting eye contact before the power of the video image portraying my emotions is lost.  Much better (some would argue not!) if you could see my face and have some eye contact.

Enough scary pictures of me!  O’Reilly published a blog post on this issue back in 2005, however desktop video conferencing wasn’t quite at the inflection point it is now.

There have been some innovative solutions most of which rely on an image projected onto a splitter (a coated optic which while reflecting the image to your eyes still allows the camera to record through the screen to give viewers of your camera the impression of eye contact.  This paper shows the concept excellently.

 

The concept

Between you and your monitor you have the splitter.  The camera sees your eye as you look at the screen.  The optics of the splitter mean you see the screen.  In optics terms it isn’t very complex.  In desktop ergonomics is is more complex.  I’m sure some budding inventor can come up with a lightweight splitter and camera mount that sits on your monitor.  If you do having read this remember me 🙂

Ultimately I feel the real power will come when the optics within the monitor itself allows for a camera to photograph you through the screen.  Ideally behind the picture of the person who is talking to you at the time (as normally on a multipoint conference you have 2-4 people on the call.

 

The ultimate goal

It would appear that some clever spark who is a bit quicker than me patented this idea earlier in 2006 and according to the New Scientist and Engadget Apple are developing just such a solution.  Well I look forward to the day it is common place this allowing all of us to benefit from eye to eye contact interactive video conferencing without the expense of the existing corporate executive level solutions like HP Halo (and others).

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