Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to maintain eye contact during a video call? You can thank your webcam placement for that. Laptop webcams are too low for eye contact, and desktop monitors have their webcams placed too high for that. Unless you want to take a laptop riser with you, you’ll just have to accept a little emotional distance in your Zoom meetings. Unless your office uses Steelcase and Logitech’s new telecommuting module, Project Ghost.
With exclusive digital hologram solutions like Google Starline Or Proto whether still in development or prohibitively expensive, it’s easy to dismiss video call booths as something left in the distant future. But at least one answer to video calling woes — eye contact — has been around since the 1950s, when the teleprompter first started making its way into event spaces and newsrooms. By reflecting text from a horizontal display onto a one-way mirror covering a camera lens, teleprompters allow speakers to read scripts aloud while making eye contact with a camera.
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Project Ghost applies the same principle to video calls, and more. Rather than using fancy video tricks to simulate holograms, it instead seeks to make calls feel more natural by focusing on physical comfort, a clear background, and eye contact. Taking a call in Project Ghost involves stepping into a booth, sitting in a half-lounge with a comfortable reclining seat, and watching a bouncy projection on an OLED screen through a 21:9 split (think the ratio of aspect of your local cinema) in a wall that hides all the teleprompter guts. Behind the projection is a 4K Logitech Rally camera, with microphones and speakers built into the wall in front of you.
The result is that the person you call appears as a stunningly realistic life-size image, all using mostly five-year-old guts that can be upgraded easily and don’t require you to shell out five. figures or wait for the distant future. It helps that behind callers using the Ghost is a black fabric mat that provides both a clean background and a bit of soundproofing, which helps sell the illusion that the person you’re talking to is from there. on the other side of the wall, rather than in a distant office. Benefits like the clear background only apply if the person you’re calling also has a ghost, but by keeping the device relatively affordable and upgradable, Logitech has made it a somewhat realistic proposition.
We’ve known Project Ghost has been coming since January, though we’ve been hesitant to pay much attention to it until now given its concept status. After finally trying it out ourselves, however, the thing seems to have cracked the code that competitors like the $20,000 Cisco telepresence kits don’t. It successfully fills a “good enough” niche that has surprisingly been left vacant until now.
Logitech has long been a key player in keyboards and mice, but its video conferencing technology really took off during the pandemic. Project Ghost is the company’s attempt to stay relevant as many companies transition from a remote work culture to a hybrid work culture. As such, he wants to feel like some kind of attraction without becoming luxury gear that the average person won’t be allowed to use.
“Companies need to save their employees’ commute time,” a Logitech spokesperson told me as he drove me to a demo unit in Ghost in Steelcase’s Manhattan office. “Many employees have better setups at home than at the office.”
The Ghost is about the size of a small meeting room, and the idea is that a business could place one affordably in an otherwise unused part of its floor space. Employees could take calls with other offices or remote workers by simply entering it.
“Cisco Telepresence and other similar solutions are so advanced that they create a sort of classroom system in the office, where only the most experienced employees can use them,” a Logitech representative said. “We want Ghost to be accessible.”
That said, you’re not going to put the half-bathroom-sized Ghost in your home office just yet. But that doesn’t mean remote workers won’t benefit.
“Because Ghost uses an existing Logitech webcam, it works with Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, anything a laptop would do,” Logitech told me. This interoperability means that any co-workers you call will at least be able to see you clearly looking at the camera, even if they don’t have a Ghost. It also means it could be useful in something like a one-to-many web conference, not just one-to-one calls.
I tested the Ghost by talking to a Steelcase representative who sat in his own Ghost in the company’s office in Grand Rapids.
The rep showed up so clearly and focused on me that I noticed she almost looked 3D, although the booth had no 3D effect whatsoever.. The specific facial features seemed to have depth, which could just be a side effect of the pure black background and eye contact making me feel closer to her. Unlike calls with my colleagues in their home offices, there were no FOV disparities, no green screens, no messy backgroundsand no virtual backgrounds with weird artifacts around co-workers’ heads.
The illusion was not quite perfect. How often do you chat with someone through a crack in a wall? But it felt comfortable and natural in a way that looking over my monitor to make eye contact with my webcam, rather than looking at who I’m talking to, isn’t.
The Ghost project is still a concept, so some design elements aren’t quite finalized. According to the rep I met with, the design is “70 or 80% complete. There is no desk in front of the user to check notes or control a laptop, and the cabin is only semi -private, with slots in the side and an open entrance. Logitech is aware of both of these issues and said they could be resolved by the time the time units ship, but made no promises. It could in fact there will be multiple versions of the Ghost – Logitech told me it was considering both more open and private cabins, yet it has yet to address concerns such as group-to-group meetings Instead, Steelcase is working on Microsoft Teams Signature Roomsthat work more like your typical conference room but centered around a screen and camera as the main focus rather than an afterthought.
Although it’s a concept, Logitech doesn’t intend to simply woo the press and potential customers with the Ghost and then never bring it to market. The company told me it was already talking to customers, who are expected to receive their units starting in the fall. Plans for early customers include big companies like (but not necessarily) Microsoft or Apple, as well as telemedicine providers.
While the Ghost is comfortable and seemingly more realistic than other options, I admit I found it a little strange that Logitech presented it as a way to facilitate a return to the office, given that it is a question of taking calls remotely. There’s definitely a place for it in a hybrid workspace, but when I asked the company about a potential home version, the rep who showed me the Ghost expressed interest. The key point in a possible home version would be to be able to keep a camera at eye level and perhaps put a soundproof background behind the speaker. While a home teleprompter might be a bit too much for most, other companies have introduced the concept webcams that can attach to the screen of a monitor.
The big question is whether companies will opt for Project Ghost. Steelcase already has a strong presence in office furniture sales and can probably help get Logitech’s foot in the door, but the group-sized pod is plenty of space to dedicate to one-on-one calls. The strength here would be price and beat others in the market. Logitech didn’t give me numbers but strongly hinted that the Ghost will be cheaper than the alternatives (leaning more towards the four-digit end of the spectrum than the five-digit one), which will likely be the one of its main selling points. Unlike its competitors, the Ghost’s lateral use of existing technology should be “good enough” for the most part and would position it to take a strong, early lead in the hybrid video calling pod space.
Meanwhile, competitors like line of stars are impressive with advanced gadgets like faux-3D, but keep iterating, as we saw at Google I/O this week. While these powerful tech cabs still strive to be realistically budgeted and polishedyou could find yourself taking a work call in a Logitech Ghost (or whatever the final name is) by the end of the year.
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