In the era of Covid-19, people are scrambling to find great document camera alternatives for home and in-office use. There is a wide range of devices available, but they generally come in two flavors, cheap and problematic and expensive, full-featured, and bulky. Today, I’ll give a quick review of the HUE HD Pro, a ~$99 USB document camera that bridges that gap.
First, the HUE HD Pro connects to a computer using a standard USB-A connector, so if you’re a modern Mac user, you’ll need a USB-A to USB-C dongle to get this working, so plan accordingly. Once you plug the HUE in, you’re ready to go, no batteries needed. I was able to fire up Quicktime/Zoom/etc. and see the HUE without installing any video drivers as the device leverages the built-in UVC driver available on all Windows and macOS devices. The image was initially very soft, but after a quick turn of the focus ring (did I mention that this is a manual focus camera), it was tack sharp. It’s worth mentioning, as I just did, that the camera focus is completely manual. While that may sound like a negative, I actually prefer setting the focus, as the camera doesn’t constantly “track” (going out of focus and back into focus as with some less expensive webcams) to obtain a good quality image. Considering it’s a document camera, the manual focus works great, as you only need to set it from time to time, and it doesn’t re-focus when it sees your hand.
The HUE HD Pro also has a mic… which is, well, OK at best. It’s passable, but if you are going to be doing any serious, long-term, document camera intensive teaching, you’ll probably want to use a different mic, or upgrade to a USB lav mic (ahem! – https://sites.duke.edu/ddmc/2018/01/04/the-movo-usb-m1-microphone/). You don’t buy this device for the mic, but considering you can also use the HUE HD Pro as a webcam (yep, just point it up from your document and manually refocus… and presto! You have a webcam!), the mic makes sense. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t buy this device if my primary goal was to use it as a webcam. There are plenty of higher quality webcams on the market, with autofocus, which has a better image and a lower cost. You buy the HUE HD Pro for the long flexible neck. But, it would work as a webcam in a pinch or if you are attempting to be ultra-mobile.
Image Quality: While I found the image very clear when sharing a hand-drawn diagram, I did notice that the camera picked up a good bit of flicker (aka, flicker happens when the alternating on/off of LED lights doesn’t match the frame rate of a camera). Overall, it wasn’t a major problem, but it was noticeable, and there really isn’t a way to eliminate the flicker, unless you are willing to swap out the lightbulbs in your environment (aka, not going to happen).
I’ve demonstrated this device about a dozen times, and the feedback is usually, “That’s exactly what I need, perfect… thanks.” It’s a simple device that performs a simple task, but as an educational professional will say, sometimes it’s the simple solution that solves the core underlying issue. Some AV professionals say that document cameras are going the way of VGA… but I still see a wide range of applications where a simple camera, sharing a hand-drawn diagram, is the best and cheapest option to convey a concept. I’ll take a document camera over an advanced touch screen most days.
- No additional drivers required: The HUE HD Pro uses the native UVC driver included with Windows and macOS devices
- Cost: At ~$99, this is a well-priced USB document camera considering how flexible the device can be
- The image quality is good and when sharing written notes in a Zoom session, it looks great
- Oh, and it has a small LED light, which is nice (note con below regarding the light)
- It just works… and is simple enough for anyone to understand. Even > I < was able to use it!
- I wish the articulating arm was longer, like 6” longer. Sometimes it is challenging to get an oversized sheet of paper in the camera frame, requiring that I place the HUE HD Pro on a book to “zoom out” as it really doesn’t have a zoom
- Regularly, I found myself twisting the HUE HD Pro’s neck in odd ways to get my documents in the correct orientation. It would have been nice if there was an option to flip the image sensor on the device natively with a tactile button push (this may be possible using their included software, but I generally hesitate to install such software as it’s usually not supported all that well)
- The light is… well, OK at best. They are not very bright and the color temperature of the LED lights isn’t ideal for every situation, but I’m a color temperature matching perfectionist
- Flicker, if you have LED lights in your teaching space, you may see a noticeable strobing flicker. This can be problematic for users that are very sensitive to flicker. The guinea pigs, errr… remote Zoom users, didn’t mention it when I was demoing the hardware… but it’s there. I see it, and a few other AV folks would see it… but it’s by no means a deal-breaker