A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to remotely demo a few autonomous camera tracking systems for use in a classroom environment. The idea is appealing. By updating the camera in the classroom, you move away from a static back-of-room shot to a considerably more impressive.
The first system we demoed was the PTZOptics Perfect Track. During the demonstration, the camera was able to gracefully pan and tilt as the subject moved around the front of the room. More importantly, it was configured to return to a general preset when no subject was in the predefined presentation area (this prevents the camera from getting “stuck” at the edge of the frame or at a door when someone exits the room… a real issue with older tracking systems). It took a considerable amount of my supervisor and I directing the demo individuals to “run faster” and “cover your face and move to the very edge of the tracking zone” before we were able to “trick” the system into action in a slightly unnatural way… but it still responded well, simply moving back to the “safe” preset. But, most importantly, a majority of the time camera movements felt very natural, almost to the point where it was hard to tell it apart from a mid-level camera operator (yes, I’ve seen MUCH worse human camera operators). The only real “gotcha” with this platform was that it’s SDI (not a major issue, but most classroom AV setups are more HDMI friendly), and the price (during the demo, it was said to be in the $8,000+ range). But, if you are filming in a classroom for a semester, that $8,000 price is very reasonable when compared to the cost of hiring a camera operator.
The second system we reviewed was the HuddleCamHD SimplTrack. While less expensive and USB only, it also proved to be a good solution, but perhaps slightly less impressive (and ~$2,000 less expensive) than the PTZOptics solution. It was also able to track the subject in a predefined presentation zone, but there were more frequent “misses” with the camera. This could have been due to the environment of the demo (there were a few minor obstructions in front of the tracking subject). It also had tracking zones and a “safe preset” that worked as detailed. Overall, I’d also recommend this system for consideration.
- The systems are improving in terms of their ability to intelligently track an individual or group of individuals
- The robotic pan and tilt is nearly a thing of the past and the footage looked very natural
- The video from these cameras is vastly superior to static, wide angle, back of the room cameras
- The hardware/software costs for these systems are high
- Setup is more involved
- These cameras don’t work in every environment (they don’t like windows, reflective surfaces, and glair)
To sum up, we’re almost to the point where classroom AV folks should consider deploying these solutions in their highly utilized classrooms as a standard install. I’d still like to see a more affordable option (wouldn’t we all?), but the price is falling and the functionality is at a tipping point.