Note: Please check out other articles in this series:
In the first article of this series, we explored the reasons why using the cameras built into our mainstream technology is often the most logical and convenient solution for viewing things from a distance. In this article, we will take a look at some standalone products that offer distance viewing.
It seems like everything in the assistive technology world is looking for the “next big thing”. About five or six years ago, developing OCR (optical character recognition) was what many major companies were focused on, probably because consumers were looking for alternatives to the KNFB Reader App, which was pretty much the only really good one on the market and cost $100. Big mainstream tech and assistive tech companies were hot on the trail of developing the next moneymaker. For a while, there were lots of new apps and products that offered OCR targeted towards, not only individuals who are visually impaired, but anyone with a reading disability, including dyslexia and cognitive impairments.
Trends come and trends go, but our needs as a community of individuals with low vision pretty much stay the same. And guess what? Though the methods, styles, and technology used in the classroom have changed, the basic principles are the same as well. Whether it’s a SmartBoard, whiteboard, word wall, or posters with fun or motivational quotes, teachers use visual cues to teach and remind students every day.
As a technology professional, I get a lot of requests for video magnification units (CTVs) and almost every time, the teacher asks “does it do distance too?” And almost every time, I have to tell them it does not.
There are a few models out there that have distance capability and we are going to take a look at five of them.
These two products, both from HIMS, are desktop video magnifiers with distance viewing capability. The cameras can be rotated to not only read text placed on the table, but can also be rotated to view objects farther away or even towards the user so the individual can see their own face (this is great for applying makeup).
While the standard Go Vision has a single camera and basic OCR capabilities, the Go Vision Pro is equipped with dual cameras that allow added features such as column reading to its OCR. The units are similar in weight (18 and 18.5 pounds respectively)
The Jupiter was released by APH in March of 2019 as part of their Innovations Product Line (which adopts products from various companies worldwide and markets them). Please note that these products are not available with Quota Funds.
The Jupiter is a foldable, portable video magnifier with near and distance capabilities as well as a self-facing camera. Due to its smaller size (the monitor is 13 inches), the unit weighs only eight pounds, which makes it more portable than some other options. The lighter weight of this unit may make up for the smaller screen size and lack of built in OCR.
The Onyx series from Freedom Scientific is yet another option of video magnifier that allows distance viewing. Let’s take a quick look at each one.
Deskset - This unit can be purchased with a 20, 22, or 24 inch monitor. The 20 and 22 inch models are available with or without a carrying case. The Deskset is ideal for a classroom or home office setting where the unit would not be moved around too much. Interestingly, though a wheeled carrying case is an optional add-on for two of the three different sized monitors, there is no weight listed.
OCR - The OCR unit has the same advantages as the standard Deskset, except it has two cameras (which improve the functioning of the OCR) and comes with a 24 inch touch screen. The Onyx OCR weighs in at about 26 pounds, so would not be a great option for a student needing something they can bring with them from class to class.
Portable - The portable version of the Onyx does not come with a monitor because this increases its portability, but it does come with a carrying case. The unit must be connected to a PC or external monitor to function. The unit can be purchased alone or with Open Book software or on its own. Interestingly enough, there is no documentation on the website listing its weight, which I would certainly want to know before purchasing the unit.
As you may know, Humanware came to an agreement with APH some time back about offering its Prodigi unit for sale under the APH brand of “MATT Connect”. Both units are virtually identical except the APH version has some additional onboard applications such as Nearby Explorer.
Both units use an Android tablet loaded with Prodigi and/or APH apps and software to allow the unit to use the integrated camera. The unit comes with KNFB Reader installed so that students can access OCR.
The two units both have distance viewing. The Prodigi Connect has two distance purchasing options (either 10x or 25x distance viewing) while the MATT Connect literature indicates it can magnify up to 40x. The cameras are wireless and must be connected to the tablet via a WiFi connection (similar to Bluetooth) and instructions are available. Interestingly, the cameras the company uses are Kodak brand cameras.
Yes, you read that right...the Visiobook is no longer available through APH on Quota Funds, but it is being produced by a company in Illinois called Woodlake Technologies.
The unit weighs seven pounds and can be easily folded up and carried in its case (included) for easy transport. The Visiobook is available with both a 12.5 and 15.6 inch monitor. The height and angle of the unit are adjustable as well, which is quite helpful. As we mentioned about the Jupitor, the lack of OCR is counterbalanced by its portability, though we assume the screen size will adjust the weight of the unit slightly.
Some Final Thoughts
For quite some time, distance magnification on desktop or even portable units was not deemed a “priority”. Even now, it is not offered by some companies or models, but there are options available for those wanting or needing an integrated video magnifier with distance viewing built in.
The products listed here are very likely not the only ones on the market, but they are what is available from some of the most well-known companies of low vision and blindness related assistive technology.
Each product has one thing that sets it apart….whether it be portability, inclusion of OCR, or incorporation of a mainstream tablet. This makes it so much easier for professionals in the field to find a distance video magnifier that has features to benefit the many students on their caseloads who have varying abilities and needs.
Do you have a favorite video magnifier with distance viewing capabilities? Please tell us in the comments!