Smart Developments in Video Magnification Technology

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post talking about developments in braille technology that were making the devices “smarter” and more capable of common functions and features that we find on our smart phones and tablets today.  Pretty much, braille notetakers are now being designed based on the Android operating system (and even Windows 10), opening up better integration with internet-, connectivity-, and productivity-related tasks commonplace in education today.  Moreover, millions of apps are now available for download. 

Now, those developments are awesome, but what about our peers and friends who use their functional vision on a daily basis, not braille and auditory information?  Today’s post is for the folks out there who are primarily visual in their access to work and the environment, and we will target a topic familiar to most in the visual impairments (VI) community: video magnifiers. 

Now, some of you might be asking yourselves, “What is a video magnifier?” Video magnifiers are devices in the VI community that use a video camera to view and zoom in on objects and text, displaying, adjusting contrast, and enlarging them on a monitor so that they can be identified or read.  If you’ve been around the field for a while, you might remember devices like this that used large CRT monitors and separate overhead cameras; these could only view materials placed under the camera, and some of you may have even pushed them around your school on carts!  You might also remember these devices better by their more antiquated name, “CCTV”.  I prefer to use the term “video magnifier” when referring to today’s devices, since the phrase is just so much more straightforward.

Today, video magnifiers are highly diverse in their feature sets, with many filter and contrast options, reading guides, flat screens, optical character recognition technology, and near/distance/self-viewing modes.  There are desktop versions that stay in one set location, portable versions like the APH Visiobook that can be moved around pretty easily in the school environment, handheld models for quick viewing of information, and models that are cameras only that connect to monitors or laptops.  The following mostly addresses issues I find with desktop and portable video magnifiers.

Even with the vast array of features one can find with video magnifiers of the last few years, the one thing about them is that they are dedicated devices with no additional functionality besides providing augmented visual access to materials and the environment.  That is, these devices do not easily work alongside common classroom tasks like Google Classroom, taking digital notes, and screen-sharing with the teacher’s computer.

One new device that I am intrigued by is the Humanware Connect 12.  This device is essentially an Android tablet with some proprietary video magnifier apps and functions designed by Humanware, paired with an optional wireless digital camera.  More specifically, it has a high definition tablet camera capable of near magnification, a wireless digital camera for distance viewing, and the ability to access nearly all of the learning content (online or in-app) that a student may encounter in a school setting.  Furthermore, the Connect 12 is an Android device, and it will continually receive software updates from Humanware to stay current in its features and software support.  I can personally testify to this, as my Prodigi Connect 12, the first generation version of this device, has already received an update to the latest Prodigi app software.  Lastly, all of this functionality is wrapped up into a very portable form factor that folds up much like a laptop, easily moved around a classroom and from room to room. 

All in all, the Connect 12 is a great first step towards integrating longstanding video magnifier functionality into a familiar platform that has the connectivity capabilities students today require to best participate in their curriculum.  Better yet, Humanware has partnered with the American Printing House for the Blind to make this device available to students using Federal Quota funds; the APH version is called the MATT Connect.