Best Low Vision Aids for the Classroom
Posted by Steven Barclay on
Competition has never been fiercer in the video magnifier business. It seems that every major company has units that are designed to attract education business. But what is the best solution? The answer to that question lies in the answer to another question. What’s the most important feature for you?
Generally speaking, there are two major groups within education: those who are in a stationary classroom environment and those who are moving from room to room.
There are some solid units that have been used for the stationary group for a number of years and a number of new contenders entering the market space. On the mobile group there are a variety of approaches from flexible camera systems to tablet based solutions and, as with the stationary offerings, new solutions are entering the market rapidly.
So let’s take a look at some of the options for these two groups and see what’s the best fit for you or your student. There are other options other than the ones I’ve listed here, but my focus here is to show units that are readily available in Canada as opposed to more obscure models that may be available from outside the country.
Video Magnifiers for the Stationary Student
Units I consider for this category are ones that offer 13” or larger monitors, room viewing capabilities as well as close-up reading.
Acrobat HD Ultra
The Acrobat cameras have been around for a long time and are well known in education circles. They have been updated over the years and the current model, the Acrobat HD Ultra features a full HD camera, close up, distance and self viewing. This unit comes in a variety of configurations including a 13” battery powered portable, 20, 22, 24 or 27 inch HD monitors as well as two external cameras that can be plugged into any monitor: one with a short arm and one with a long arm.
The 22 to 27 inch units are the ones most commonly seen in classrooms. It can’t be beat for a simple solution. The only drawback to this unit is that it’s primary control is a wireless remote control. Although the remote is a good size and easy to learn, it is still a point of vulnerability in rooms full of mischief. There are controls on the camera itself which allow for size and color adjustment, so the remote control could be put away if only simple functions were needed.
The Davinci and Davinci Pro have been very popular due to their OCR features. These units are capable of scanning and reading text which can be extremely helpful for students who experience visual fatigue.
The difference between the Davinci and the Davinci Pro is the camera that is used for the OCR. On the basic Davinci, the normal HD camera is used to snap the picture for processing the text. On the Davinci Pro there is a second dedicated 13 Megapixel camera for the OCR feature. Because of the vast difference in camera resolution, OCR results on the Davinci Pro are vastly better than those on the basic Davinci. So much so that I no longer recommend the basic Davinci as there are few things that are more annoying than listening to the results of a poorly scanned document.
The Davinci has basic controls on the camera and a separate wired control panel for accessing more advanced functions. So if you wanted to limit access to the OCR function you could do so by unplugging the control panel but would still be able to use the on-camera controls for magnification features.
The Onyx Deskset HD and the Onyx OCR are direct competitors to the Acrobats and Davincis.
Feature wise the Onyx is very similar to the Acrobat. It also has a rotating camera and comes in monitor sizes of 20, 22 and 24 inch. It is slightly less expensive than the Acrobat by about $100 when the same screen sizes are considered. It also has a remote control, however the remote control is tethered to the camera unit which would at least tether someone who was being mischievous.
As with the Acrobat there is also a portable version of the camera which can plug into a monitor, however we will cover this in our portable options since it also can be used with a computer.
The Onyx OCR model lines up directly with the Davinci Pro and is $200 cheaper. Like the Davinci it has a second 13 Megapixel It also includes a touch screen which the Davinci does not have.
MagniLink is a company that believes in providing options. They offer a wide variety of camera systems in various configurations. The Magnilink Zip is a desktop system that comes with a 13 or 17 inch monitor. It can be purchased with a 720P HD camera or a 1080p FHD camera. It has the option of an X/Y table and also an optional internal battery which can power the unit for up to 9 hours.
The camera on the unit folds upward and can swivel left and right for room viewing as well. The entire unit folds down and fits into an included carrying case for portability. The unit is also one of the lighter fold down portables on the market at 8.4 pounds for the 13 inch unit and 9.5 pounds for the 17 inch unit.
It can also be connected to a PC or Mac is an OCR option that can be added when using it with a computer.
Clearview Go has just been introduced to the market. It is a fold down full HD 1080p with a 15.6 inch screen that includes a 5 hour battery, distance viewing and self viewing. It also features HDMI output for connection to a larger screen.
The Reveal 16 comes in two models, the Reveal 16 and the Reveal 16i.
The basic Reveal 16 is a simple fold down unit with a 16 inch screen, 10x optical zoom and up to 45x digital zoom. It also is one of the only units on the market with a 1x view to give a document overview. It has an HDMI port for output to a larger monitor, it also offers distance and close up viewing. Options include a battery, carrying case and X/Y table.
The Reveal 16i has all of the features and options of the basic unit but also has a touch screen and a carousel system that allows you to access other features like OCR and a full implementation of Android which allows it to be used as a full all-in-one computer for editing, accessing Android applications, collaborating with students in Android/Chromebook environments, email, web browsing and much more. This is a unique solution which should prove popular in school districts where Google Classroom systems are in use.
Video Magnifiers for the Mobile Student
Although some of the units previously mentioned are also portable, the units to follow are all lighter weight and more compact. Units I consider for this category are portable camera units that can be interfaced with computers or tablets and tablet based solutions that fold for easy transportation. All of these systems also offer room viewing.
Transformer HD is a unit which can connect to almost anything. It has HDMI and USB 3.0 output built in for Windows, Mac and Chromebooks and it also sets up it’s own WiFi hotspot which allows Windows, iOS and Android tablets to connect to it wirelessly. This is great where you’re trying to reduce the number of cables running across the desk.
There are two units of the Transformer. One is a more basic unit and the other has a 13 Megapixel document camera included for OCR purposes – note the OCR is not available if only connected to a monitor via HDMI.
The camera rotates for self viewing and distance viewing. There is also an optional suction base which is incredibly strong and will allow the camera to be stuck to any smooth surface. It includes a battery which provides a minimum of 2 hours of use, and a second battery and second battery charger are also included.
Transformer HD can capture stills or record video as well.
Magnilink S Premium 2
The Magnilink S is a HD camera system that is designed to connect to computer via USB. It is compatible with both Windows and Mac computers as well as Chromebooks. Like most other Magnilink offerings it has a host of options including: 720 or 1080P HD camera, OCR for Windows or Mac, a USB/HDMI module for external connection and a Docking station which can have a plate, an X/Y table or a clamp to clamp it to a table.
It also offers distance and self viewing options. It’s software allows for still or video capture as well as split screen functions.
Clearnote HD is a basic USB 3.0 connected camera compatible with Windows computers which provides close up, self and distance viewing. It offers image capture but not video capture. It remains one of the simpler, less expensive options on the market for use with a PC.
Connect 12 is based around a proprietary tablet and uses the tablet’s camera for magnification. It also has a touch screen and carousel system that provides access to OCR features and Android making it another excellent option in a Google based classroom or for standard tasks like notetaking, email and web browsing. It also includes a large print calculator app. It folds into an extremely small and lightweight package.
For distance viewing there is an optional 10x or 25x external wireless camera which can be mounted in a socket on the Connect 12 stand.
Mercury 12 is another tablet based system which leverages mainstream devices to keep costs lower. It comes with two options for the tablet, a 12 inch Acer tablet or a 12 inch Microsoft Surface tablet. Each can also be ordered with a USB connected distance camera. A keyboard with a track pad are included with the system.
It offers OCR and also comes with an included large print program for Windows called iZoom.
Magnilink Tab is another system based on the Microsoft Surface tablet, however it takes a different approach to the camera setup. You can use the internal camera from the Surface tablet for magnification, but also included is an external camera which sits to the side of the unit, connects to the tablet via USB and provides the distance viewing features as well as being able to do close up viewing. This allows for a much higher working distance than other tablet based designs.
The unit can be controlled via the touch screen or by hotkeys on a Bluetooth connected keyboard which can be added as an option.
There are more options than ever for large print systems in the classroom. Solutions can be chosen to fit the specific needs of students within the computing environment of their school district. The following charts are offered to help understand the specifications and compatibility of different systems. Please note these are the features at the time of publication of this post and may change over time.
Need more information? Here's a handy dandy Low Vision Aids for Education Comparison Chart!