Insta360 Link webcam review – TechCrunch

i have to confess something For making. I have been in this industry for a long time. I have reviewed hundreds of products over the years. During most of that time, webcams have always felt like an afterthought. I fully agree that this is probably the worst way to open a webcam review, but sometimes honesty takes precedence over a good lead.

Not that they aren’t important, of course. It’s just that, over the years, it’s been one of those categories where “okay” or “okay” sounded good enough. Who cares about a so many laptop webcams for the occasional 30-minute meeting?

I say this as someone who went to an office every day for long periods of time, and meetings that weren’t face-to-face often could be handled via email or Slack — or those wildly expensive ones. One of the teleconferencing systems throws corporate IT money.

All of this, surprisingly, is just one of a long list of things that have changed over the years. A push towards video teleconferencing and various remote media spots has put the subject in sharp relief. A broader social move toward remote work is finally coinciding well with the start of a minor – but interesting – revolution in the world of webcams.

image credit: Brian Heater

Laptop makers have finally begun to upgrade their long-old 740p cameras and adopt some alternative approaches to native hardware, such as Apple’s Continuity camera, which outsources the function to a connected iPhone. We reviewed the Opel camera when it was in beta, and the hardware felt like a breath of fresh air — albeit it required a lot of software tweaks. Many of them, thankfully, have been addressed in subsequent months.

If you told me a few years ago that two of the most exciting products I’ll be reviewing in 2022 would be webcams, I might be laughing. Nevertheless, we are here with another fascinating entry. This comes through Insta360, a Shenzhen-based firm known primarily for 360-degree cameras (hence the name) and action cams. I don’t have much opportunity to review, so I haven’t played with either of their products in quite some time.

When Link was announced, it was clearly time to change that. At the start of an exciting era for webcam technologies, this is one of the more innovative I’ve ever seen. Innovation, mind for not only innovation. It makes a lot of sense. In our writing for the news, we compared the system to DJI’s excellent Pocket System, a small, hand-held gimbal that allows for smooth and easy tracking shots.

image credit: Brian Heater

Incorporating similar technologies into webcams makes a lot of sense on the face of it. It’s like a scaled-down version of one of the above wildly expensive teleconferencing systems. The combination of AI, face tracking and robotics allows for a system that can track a user. Think of a more refined, better-quality version of something like Apple’s Center Stage. There are limits to how such applications work – just as there are currently limits to how small a product like Insta360’s webcam can be made. It’s not a form factor that, say a company, can currently manufacture in laptop displays.

It’s a first-gen product, but the Link is an absolute winner. The above features match together nicely for an extremely capable webcam. My main criticism (if it can be described as such) is that the system may be too capable for many users. I’ll admit it’s an odd complaint, but if I had to venture to guess, I’d say that most people are served perfectly with fairly stable webcams in most cases. I don’t know about you, but I and everyone else are sitting in the same position for the majority of Zoom calls.

I bring it up largely because of the pricing issues; $300 is not a trivial amount for most people. If you don’t need the kind of dynamic framing that Link was made to deliver, there are certainly cheaper alternatives. Of course, it is pertinent to mention here that it is priced similar to the Opel C1, so it is a clear hurdle for both the products. And of course there are much cheaper options, if you need something more basic. Logitech, for example — they’re not flashy or new, but they make good products.

[Still images taken in Photobooth; clockwise from top left: Link, Opal C1, Apple Studio Display, iPhone 12 via Camera Continuity], image credit: Brian Heater

Using Link for a couple of weeks, I wonder if this kind of product is becoming mainstream, which could ultimately affect the way we conduct virtual meetings. How many of our super stationery meetings are the product of the limits of our technology? It’s something to think about, for sure. If my desk was in a good position to bounce a whiteboard on the wall, I’d definitely reconsider the parameters of my Zoom calls.

That’s where Link shines. Its tracking is great, and it responds well to hand gestures. Hold up your palm to enable face tracking. An “L” by hand will zoom out the video. Two fingers and the camera will rest on your whiteboard (you may need to toss some markers to help with this process). Video quality is excellent, up to 4K. Again, this is probably overkill for most meetings, but it will help you make use of that 5x digital zoom without affecting video quality. Considering how advanced (and, frankly, bigger) these webcams are getting, optical zoom would be a nice addition. Maybe on link 2.

image credit: Brian Heater

Meanwhile, the first generation Link is a really great addition to the webcam universe. It’s one of those rare additions to a category that changes the conversation and opens up a whole new world of possibilities—assuming you have the cash to spend.

Insta360 Link webcam review

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