Innovation Watch

Altia Systems Panacast 2

Panacast 2 Webcam

Altia Systems developed the Panacast 2 web camera with the hope of bringing “the natural human perspective to video conferencing”. This concept is attempted  by using more of the human eye’s natural field of view. For example, a human has about 150° of horizontal vision directly ahead, with a little over 2/3rd of their vision having depth perception, and the remaining peripheral. Most desktop webcams have a horizontal range of between 60-90°.

The PanaCast 2 provides a horizontal field of view of 180°. It does this by combining the feeds from three imaging lenses built into the device. The camera combines the image streams through a process known as “stitching”. This device was designed primarily for use in small meeting settings, (Altia Systems refers to these as “Huddle Spaces”) such as conference tables, or meeting rooms. With the PanaCast 2 against one end of the room, the far-end viewer is able to see everyone in the room, and direct their attention to whoever is speaking in a natural way. The image is designed to fit across two HD monitors providing the far-end viewer with a panoramic view.

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The camera (or cameras) is machined into an aluminum housing that can get quiet warm during operation. The manufacturer has informed us that this is normal for this device and is part of its cooling function. It has a built in microphone that is functional, but sounds very tinny when used in conference. It is slightly bigger than many of the off-the-shelf webcams, and comes with a threaded stand that allows the device to sit at near eye level from a table. The device can also be wall-mounted with a separately purchased bracket. The PanaCast plugs in using a standard to Micro-B USB.3.0 cable provided with the camera.  It also requires AC power to operate.

Altia Systems describes the device as plug and play – we had no initial issues connecting it to some common desktop VTC platforms. Some of the platforms that we used did crop some of the image on the far left and far right. Dragging the image across two monitors provided an impressive view of the room the PanaCast was in, but left little monitor space for other programs or applications.  The camera did an admirable job of stitching the 3 images together in a pleasing way. However, when within a few feet of the camera (or closer), it is possible to see shifting, or flickering in the image when the subject moves from one camera’s field of view to another. The robust resolution on this camera requires a fast internet connection, and users will not likely see the best resolutions while connected over wireless networks.  Altia Systems does provide a free software application on their website that will allow users to zoom in, and pan within the image in order to view closer detail.

This camera would be best used for it’s designed function, namely as a small conference, or meeting camera. Setup in a permanent, or semi-permanent location, it can help provide an immersive view of a conference area without the need to manipulate any Pan-Tilt-Zoom functions. This device represents a trend in the Video Conferencing industry: to provide software-based users features that once were only available in dedicated room-based, hardware driven systems.