By Nerino Petro at 5 April, 2012, 1:08 pm
Document cameras can be great for trials, hearings and elsewhere because they allow you to show images, objects and evidence that may be tough to place in a PowerPoint or other presentation program. Until recently, though, lawyers generally had to pick one from a limited number of companies, such as Elmo, Epson, Toshiba or Canon. But now you have another option.
AVerVision (www.averusa.com), a well-established company that’s widely known in the educational market, is moving to break into the legal market with its line of document cameras and accessories provided me with a free unit to test and review. I recently gave the company’s AVerVision 355 AF a test-drive to see if it provides good feature-for-feature value compared to its more well-known competition. Here’s the rundown on what I learned.
The feature set. The AVerVision 355 AF (available online for under $700) is a full-featured interactive document camera that provides numerous input and output options for visual presentations. While testing it, I also tried out an AVerPen “starter pack.” The AVerPen, a wireless device that integrates with AVerVision document cameras, is designed to combine interactive whiteboard and wireless slate technology with the ability to gather responses (although its collaborative features are really designed to be used in a classroom context).
Relatively compact and easy to transport, the AVerVision 355 AF weighs in at 4.4 pounds and measures 18.5 x 6.8 x 21.4 inches when it’s set up. It comes with remote control cables and a power supply, as well as a canvas carrying bag. Its features include a 5-megapixel color sensor, and it provides both XGA and HD resolution output—including full HDTV-quality 1080p output and a 720p signal. Plus, the unit has an 8X digital zoom and a 5X optical zoom, which combined with its 2X AVerZoom feature provides up to 80X zoom total.
The AVerVision 355 AF also has split-screen and picture-in-picture features, as well as the ability to record onboard audio and video straight to a USB flash drive or an SD card. It boasts a USB 2.0-to-PC port, a USB flash drive port and an SD card slot, and it has audio line-in and line-out ports. In addition, the unit will accept VGA input and output and can also handle DVI–I and composite video output. While all the different input and output options can be a bit overwhelming initially, spending some time with the Quick Start Guide and the CDROM-based User Guide allows you to rapidly start using all the features of this impressive product.
Among its many neat features, the 355 AF has both manual and auto focus options, as well as a built-in LED light with laser positioning guides to accurately align the documents and objects you want to project. And the unit includes the company’s interactive Aver+ software. Available for both Windows and Mac systems, this software provides a range of project tools and enables image capture, object-oriented annotation, markup of images being projected, video recording, network capabilities and more. The Aver+ software enables integration with the AVerPen as well.
Main pros and cons. The AVerVision 355 AF can be used on its own connected to a projector, monitor or television, or it can be used in conjunction with a computer via its USB cable, which allows the user to project not only information from the computer, but also documents and objects captured by the 355 AF. The image quality is excellent and the included remote control provides access to all of the unit’s built-in capabilities. The auto-focus feature is nicely responsive and includes macro-zoom-in capabilities for close ups of smaller objects. In addition, the camera arm can be extended or retracted depending on the size of the object to be captured and the LED illumination and laser positioning guides combine to clearly delineate the capture area for you. Plus, the unit can play back still pictures from its internal memory as well as play back video from a USB flash drive or SD memory card. And in conjunction with the document camera’s AVerVisor display features, the Aver+ software gives users a wide range of display possibilities. AVer- Media deserves kudos for including all of these features in such a compact transportable unit.
However, the very things that make the 355 AF such a flexible device can also add to the complexity of initial use. Reviewing the Quick Start Guide is imperative if you want to get the most out of this device as speedily as possible. While the separate User Guide provides a lot of information, this company’s roots in the educational market are clear throughout all of the documentation, and if they’re truly trying to break into the legal market they would be best served by providing legal-specific guides. As to the AVerPen, it’s a great concept and presents some unique possibilities for marking up presentations or providing responses when working in a group environment. But the controls for marking fine details or writing with it are clearly intended more for the educational market and student use rather than for lawyers’ use. Fortunately, you don’t actually need to use the AVerPen to get what you want from the 355 AF document camera anyway.
Bottom line. The AVerVision 355 AF is competitively priced, feature rich, well constructed and easily transportable, making it a worthwhile option to consider if you’re looking for a document camera. Its ease of use and feature set make it a serious contender in the legal marketplace for this type of tool. Be aware that it can’t run PowerPoint presentations in standalone mode, but since many LCD projectors already have that capability, this shouldn’t be much of an issue. Most of the things that I didn’t like or felt could be improved in the 355 AF are relatively small issues, and can be addressed by the company if it’s going to continue to pursue the legal market, and ultimately I don’t believe they detract from the overall usefulness of this device.
Scorecard With a maximum possible score of 20, here is how I rate the 355 AF:
|Ease of Use:||
|Quality of Materials:||
|Value for Cost:||