REVIEW – The pandemic has caused larger meetings to occur as smaller videoconferencing groups spread out across boardroom tables. While wall-mounted cameras and mics may seem inadequate for the farthest participants, the Coolpo AI Huddle PANA conference system captures 360° of the meeting. I have one to review. Read on to see what I think!
What is it?
The Coolpo AI Huddle PANA conference system is a USB connected webcam, microphone array, and loudspeaker. The system works as a USB enabled peripheral so that the system’s built-in software can be used to capture an immersive video conference experience without additional computer drivers. Specifically, the Coolpo AI Huddle PANA uses the microphone array built into the device to sense who is talking around the conference table and then creates a multi-dynamic image video of the principal speakers along with a 360 degree panorama of the entire conference room.
What’s in the box?
- Coolpo system
- Lens cover
- Power cable
- USB cable
- User manual
- Warranty card
- Field of view: Horizontal: 360° / Vertical: 60°
- Number of cameras: 1 fish-eye
- Stitching technology: Meeting Flex™
- Supported resolutions: Panoramic-4K HD: 3840 x2160 @ 30fps
- Image Sensor: 1/1.7 inch CMOS, 1200 megapixels
- Optical focal length: 1.56mm
- Aperture: F2.4
- Camera angle: 360°
- Digital noise reduction: Automatic
- BLC: Automatic
- Exposure mode: Automatic
- White balance: Automatic
- Microphones: 4 smart microphones
- Pick-up range: 15-feet
- Speaker: 360 speaker
- Ease of use
- Plug-and-play: yes
- Portable: yes
- USB plug-and-play: USB-A port
- Power: Power cable
- Operating system: Windows7/8/10,
features Mac OS 10.15.4, 10.15.6,
- UVC video format: MJPEG
- Resolution MJPEG: 3840×2160, 1920×1080, 1280×720
- UVC communication protocol: USB2.0/UVC1.1
- Operating system: Windows7/8/10,
- Main unit dimension (LxWxH): 11cm*11cm*29cm
- Warranty: 1 year
- Operating temperature: 0° to 40° C
- Operating humidity: 10% to 90% (non-condensing)
- Compatibility: Zoom, Cisco Webex, Slack, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Skype, Google Hangouts, BlueJeans and so on.
Design and features
The Coolpo PANA comes in a sturdy cardboard box that has a clasp and clip to keep the cover closed. The front of the box has a glossy image of the Coolpo device that stands out against the satin finish of the rest of the white box.
The device sits in sturdy styrofoam blocks inside of the box to isolate it from damage that may occur to the box. One block sits at the base of the box and the other sits at the top. There are two compartments at the top of the box that holds the power supply cable and the USB cable. Since this Coolpo will not have a permanent home at my house or at my place of work, I intend on storing the camera at my desk in the box. For now, I think the box is in decent enough shape to continue to use as a storage case, but over time it may need to be wrapped in tape to keep it intact.
The setup of the Coolpo is surprisingly easy. Because all of the image processing and control is in the device, no drivers need to be installed on the computer hosting the conference. The first step is to position the camera in the middle of a table if the participants will generally be facing the device, or towards the front of the table if the participants will generally be facing a screen.
Note that the Coolpo does not have any hardware security, such as a security slot and lock location.
Next, the PANA needs to be connected to the computer, plugged into the wall, and powered on. The specifications state that the unit is USB 2.0 compliant but the USB cable is a USB 3.0 A to Micro B Cable. I suppose for backward compatibility the manufacturers decided to go with this strategy instead of a USB C type connection on the PANA. While this design has a very limited impact on the daily operation of the PANA, replacing this cable if it is lost is slightly more difficult than if it were a typical USB type C cable. Powering on the unit is accomplished by pressing the power button for at least one second.
After the system is powered on and connected to the computer hosting the videoconference, the PANA needs to be selected as the video source and the audio in and out device. Each videoconference software solution has a slightly different way of achieving this but generally, the PANA device is chosen from a drop-down list of the available speaker, microphone, and video options. If the PANA is not listed immediately then the USB installation may need to complete or the videoconference software may need to be restarted. This step should only have to happen once. Note that the PANA requires a computer to run the videoconference software. The PANA is not a video system that is capable of hosting a videoconference entirely on its own.
The Coolpo device is upgradable by software that may be downloaded from the Coolpo website. As of the publication date, there are no updates available for the PANA.
The Coolpo has some nice feature touches to make operation easier while conducting a meeting. When the unit is powered on a blue light reflects off of the conference table from the device’s base, cast by a circle of LEDs at the bottom of the speaker grille. The light “breathes” when a video is being captured. The side of the device with the power button also has a mute switch and a volume increase and decrease button. While the power button is a physical switch the mute and volume buttons are capacitive buttons and operate by simply touching the area symbolized by a crossed-out microphone, a plus, and a minus.
When the buttons are pressed there is a corresponding reaction from the LEDs at the base. A mute turns the LEDS red and increasing or decreasing the volume causes the LEDs to blink and turn progressively blue or violet. I found that tapping the unit to adjust the volume tends to wobble the camera since the unit stands so tall.
The Coolpo site does not explicitly state that the system will work with Apple’s Facetime as that tends to work better in portrait mode. The unit functioned very well on Zoom, Cisco Webex, and Microsoft Teams.
I’ve tried using the PANA for a few meetings and have made the following observations:
The camera field of view is about 30 degrees above and below the centerline of the fisheye. Only an extremely tall person sitting very close to the camera in a chair with a high seat has any chance of being cropped out of frame. Although the camera has a very high resolution for the panoramic image, the image is processed as part of a multi-dynamic image video, so the native resolution is not shown. There is no way to export just the panoramic video. if there are no persons for the AI to focus on, then the camera will show two empty spaces above the panoramic shot.
The automatic exposure and white balance seemed to work well. It looks like the camera adjusts the whole panorama to the same settings and then processes the panoramic image for the close-ups. It would be nice if the close-up images were processed separately so that if there is someone sitting in a dark corner that their image is adjusted independently. There are no filters applied to the image so people aren’t going to look as polished as they do in some social media apps. The images look a little washed out but that also may be due to the horrid fluorescent lighting that is used in my employer’s conference rooms.
The microphone works very well at both near and far distances. The software focuses on speech but the system may not let other sounds through as well. So if this is being used to broadcast the meeting of a ukelele enthusiasts club it may be better to use a secondary sound source for the non-spoken audio.
Generally, the way that the unit picks up a voice to target the video of the person speaking works very well. there were a couple of instances where the camera would only catch half of a person or would perhaps pick up an echo and point to a whiteboard, but generally, the conference participants were centered in the frame.
The setup and operation of the unit couldn’t be easier. There’s no need to install any extra drivers because all the software to control the video feed is already built into the device. The time needed to set the camera up plug it in, connect the USB and select the camera as the video, speaker, and microphone can be as little as 20 seconds.
What I like
- Immersive 360-degree shot
- A powerful speaker and sensitive microphones
- Intelligent identification of the person doing the talking
What I’d change
- No security slot and lock location
- No way to fix the location of the close-up shots
Video conference solutions with a 360° view are becoming increasingly common there is a large price disparity between the most and least expensive units available. In the past, these devices have almost exclusively served high-end videoconference solutions. As workplaces and industries adapt to a growing remote workforce the demand for these types of devices may increase. While the Coolpo does not have some of the customizable features of the Meeting Owl from OwlLabs its plug and play simplicity is able to provide very similar results for no less than half the cost of the competing unit. If you’re looking to explore the use of an impressive videoconference solution on a budget, I recommend you give the Coolpo AI Huddle PANA a try.