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Logitech Broadcaster Wi-Fi Webcam test drive

Whether you use Skype or FaceTime, or you do a weekly video podcast, the quality of the video camera you use is important. It also helps to have more than one camera to switch between, for variety and to make your video look more professional. Most webcams are USB-based, and I've often found that HD cams can actually "overload" the USB bus so that only one can be used at a time.

That's why the Logitech Broadcaster Wi-Fi Webcam (US$199.99) is such a pleasant surprise. By using a Wi-Fi connection to beam 720p HD video to your Mac or iOS device, it's possible to use two or more HD cameras at the same time. The Wi-Fi connectivity also makes it possible to place the camera anywhere -- there's no need to be tethered to a computer.

Design

The design of the Logitech Broadcaster is quite different from other webcams we've tested. The camera is a rather small black rectangular object with a lens and lamp in the front, mode and lamp buttons on the side, and external microphone, micro-USB port (for charging and setup), and power button on the back. On the bottom is a hemispherical bump for placing the camera on its stand (more about that in a minute), and on the top is a large round capture button, a Wi-Fi signal strength indicator, and a battery level indicator.

The camera comes with a cylindrical hard plastic carrying case that also serves as a stand. That bump on the bottom of the camera fits into a dimple on the top of the case, and there's a magnet that holds the two securely together. Adjustment is simple; just move the camera to a position that's useful and it stays there. The bottom of the carrying case lid has a tripod screw mount, so the entire assembly can be put on a tripod.

I like the idea of the hard case. It holds the camera very securely and keeps it from being damaged during transit, and works as a mini-tripod. Very ingenious!

Functionality

Enough about how it looks; how does it work? To use the Broadcaster, you need to download the Logitech Broadcaster app (for Mac or iPad) to your appropriate device. Once installed, that app is used to set up the camera for use.

You don't actually have to connect the Broadcaster to your device to set it up. The app takes you through the process one step at a time, starting with turning the Broadcaster on, giving the camera a name to identify it and giving the app your Wi-Fi password. Once you've done that, it displays a QR code that you point the camera at, pressing the large capture button until the camera beeps. A few seconds later, it is ready to use with your device.

Logitech has designed the Broadcaster to work seamlessly with Ustream, the streaming video service that we use for TUAW TV Live. In fact, once you've set up the Broadcaster to work with Ustream, you don't even need to use a Mac or iOS device to stream your video (assuming you're still in range of the configured WiFi network). Just turn on the camera and press the capture button, and you're on the air.

Of course, if you're doing video podcasting or making VoIP calls, you'll need to have some other app open. I found that just about every Mac app I tried -- FaceTime, Skype, Wirecast, Ustream Producer (a version of Wirecast), Wirecast for YouTube, PhotoBooth, Boinx TV, Camtasia, and Motion FX -- worked fine with the camera. In some cases, particularly with the Wirecast apps, the video resolution seemed to be stuck in non-HD modes, but that is most likely an issue with the apps not recognizing the camera as an HD device.

Speaking of modes, the mode button described earlier is used for one thing only -- using the device to broadcast directly to Ustream.

The color and picture quality of the Broadcaster is excellent. I currently use a Logitech C910 HD webcam for TUAW TV Live, and the Broadcaster does as good a job as the wired camera. One concern I would have is how the camera would work in conditions with high network traffic, for example when an live HD stream is being broadcast from a Mac and the camera is is trying to send a stream as well.

With the iPhone and iPad app, I found I had some difficulties connecting to the camera unless the Mac or other device was completely asleep and the camera was restarted. In fact, I was never able to connect to the camera from my iPhone, getting a "Camera Disconnected" message every time. The iPad worked very well.

The app provides a way to record or to broadcast to UStream from your iOS device. When recording, the video can be captured in 360p, 480p, or 720p resolution. The app provides a way to monitor the battery level of the camera as well -- I found the battery to last about three hours in actual use without using the light, although part of that time the camera wasn't actually streaming.

For doing livestreams, the combination of the Broadcaster and the iOS app is a winner. I can easily imagine using an iPad and Broadcaster to do "live remotes" from locations with Wi-Fi -- this would be perfect for broadcasting seminars or conferences.

One final note: this really is the perfect webcam for anyone with either a Mac mini or Mac Pro who isn't using an Apple Thunderbolt Display with the built-in FaceTime HD camera. It won't take up a port on your device, can be moved anywhere in your workspace, and is easy to take on the road.

Conclusion

While many people will probably be happy with using the built-in FaceTime camera on their Mac or iOS device, there's definitely an market for external HD video cameras. The Logitech Broadcaster should be at the top of any video podcaster's shopping list, as it provides a well-designed wireless option to the webcam market.

Pros

  • Lightweight design with a dual-purpose hard case that both protects and supports the camera
  • Good battery life -- enough to do a two-hour show on a single charge
  • Excellent integration and compatibility with the Mac and iPad
  • Easy setup, doesn't require a USB tether to a device to set up
  • Logitech Broadcaster software is free and easy to use
  • Can be set up to broadcast to Ustream without a computer

Cons

  • Price is significantly higher than most USB webcams
  • Could not get the camera to work with the Broadcaster app on an iPhone 4S

Who is it for?

Anyone who needs a primary or secondary HD webcam for videoconferencing or video podcasting who needs the flexibility afforded by being able to place the camera well away from a computer. Also, anyone who would like a way to do broadcasts via Ustream without the need for a computer.

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