With the coronavirus pandemic stubbornly hanging on within the United States, we’re starting to see the emergence of dedicated home videoconferencing appliances for Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and more. The latest is Zoom for Home, which unfortunately takes the best part of an at-work solution and tries to bring it home—where it’s probably not wanted.
Zoom for Home is a branded device manufactured by DTEN ME, due to ship to U.S. customers in August for $599. It’s not a full-fledged PC, nor is it a mere display: it’s a “personal collaboration device” with a PC-like 27-inch, 1080p touchscreen, a whopping 8 separate microphones, and not one but three cameras that offer a horizontal field of view that can reach up to 160 degrees.
It’s this last feature that Zoom may have got wrong. One of the attractive features of Zoom is its ability to hide your living space from the rest of the world, with options to use a virtual background or simply focus on you as you sit with your back to a bookcase or wall. Creating an even wider field of view (for a single person!) seems counter-intuitive—in fact, the device assumes that more than one person will be in the room with you... like a conference room, perhaps? (It’s also not clear whether virtual backgrounds are even supported.)
The Zoom for Home device’s spec sheet also doesn’t say anything about lighting, another aspect of videoconferencing that’s become even more critical. (Our tips on how to look professional in videoconferences notes that lighting is as important to you as it is to Hollywood actors.) For $599, a built-in light of some sort would have been welcome.
Zoom for Home looks like Zoom’s first attempt to capitalize on the work-from-home movement, with a quick rebranding of an existing at-work device. This is made even more clear with Zoom’s “Zoom from Home” recommended hardware page, where a number of office solutions, including several webcam-equipped video bars, are listed.
Zoom for Home, for example, runs DTEN’s custom OS, not Windows, so it’s architected strictly to run Zoom—and you’ll need a Zoom paid license to run it. (Fortunately, Zoom allows some flexibility here, as “any” license is supported, presumably including a consumer license as well as Zoom’s more expensive commercial offerings. Those include Zoom Phone, another way of accessing Zoom meetings.) Fortunately, Zoom for Home also offers some collaborative whiteboarding on up to 12 pages.
Zoom’s pitching the Zoom for Home as both a collaborative device as well as a second monitor, which might be a smarter approach to remove the clutter of a mic, webcam, and other paraphernalia from your desk. That probably assumes that the Zoom for Home can be switched into a passive HDMI mode to be used with Windows—but what happens when your colleague wants to chat?
What’s clear is that we’re seeing the first wave of repurposed office videoconferencing devices pushed into the home. Lenovo and Microsoft recently teamed up to announce the Lenovo ThinkSmart View, a $350 Teams appliance. Was the Facebook Portal ahead of its time?
In any event, the ThinkSmart View—a small, companion device that sits next to the PC—as well as Zoom for Home and its competitors might be the next “smart device” for the home, as a shortage of webcams and a reluctance to work in a crowded office persist. Over time, we’ll have to see whether these home solutions take into account what it’s actually like to work from home, rather than force home users to create their own “conference rooms.”