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Ask Slashdot: Best Webcam To Augment Impaired Vision? 63

Posted by timothy
from the tickle-me-elmo-via-usb dept.
mynamestolen writes "In order to read paper-based books many visually impaired people want to attach a webcam to a computer and attach the computer to a TV. Some Electronic Magnifiers are purpose-built to provide a similar solution. Different organisations around the world (such as in the UK) have help pages. But I have not been able to find a guide to set up my own system. So I'm asking Slashdot readers how to go about it. What is the best camera to use if I want to hold the camera in my hand and point it at book or magazine? What parameters should I adjust, either in the software or on the camera? Depth of view, refresh rates, contrast, color balance and resolution might be key problems. My system is Linux and getting drivers for a good camera might also be a problem."
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Ask Slashdot: Best Webcam To Augment Impaired Vision?

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  • RedTube, or xHamster.

  • by Antipater (2053064) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @02:08PM (#42659065)
    I know next to nothing about cameras, etc. However, I'd suggest you go look at the specs for some e-readers, if you can find them. I'd figure the design people for Amazon, B&N, or whoever else already did the homework on refresh rate, color balance, etc. to ensure readability.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @02:11PM (#42659095)

    I use a mix of platforms but for Windows where things are especially bad, I use a Logitech C610 (with and without a stand) combined with a product called ZoomText (version 10 has built-in CCTV functionality now).

    • by Bob Ince (79199)

      Under Linux, I'm using a C615 with a Python OpenCV script to push it onto the screen.

      The important point with using a webcam is that it needs to be able to focus at very short distances - the cheaper cams I've tried fail to produce sharp images when placed close enough to the book. Unfortunately this capability doesn't seem to get mentioned in the specs.

      Does anyone know of cams with a good short-range focus other than Logitech C61x?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It might be easier to set up a little copy stand/tripod rig. Lay the book down, lock in the focus, and all you need to do is flip the pages.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Instead of hacking together your own solution, look for non-certified ones online. My grandmother got one for $20-30, i don't remember how much exactly, that she can use in the reading stand that was included or use with her hand (which, unless you have really steady hands, is a bad idea). It is fully adjustable in terms of DoF, zoom, etc. and can even invert colors with the flip of a switch. The real bonus is that it attaches directly to either the TV or the computer. Its so easy, she even takes it to

    • by bfandreas (603438)
      My mom still uses a 20 years old Nokia TV that simply refuses to die. SCART is a blight upon men!
      Just this weekend she asked me how to connect her tablet to that ... thing.

      Don't underestimate how few people have old TV sets. Especially when high resolutions are wasted due to bad vision.
  • by decipher_saint (72686) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @02:21PM (#42659241) Homepage

    Machines have been around for ages that you can use to read a book on a large screen with different levels of magnification, it has a tray that you can move around easily and it has a small CCD camera hooked up to a TV screen.

    When I was in school in the 80s I used a VisualTech CCD magnifier, in fact they're still around: http://www.visual-techconnection.com/cctvs1.htm [visual-tec...ection.com]

    However since most of us have computers these days it's hard to justify having such a bulky device around for books.

    So what are the options:
    1. Get eBooks and zoom in to your hearts content
    (problem: not all books are available in eBook form)
    2. Get large print copy of the book you want to read
    (problem: same as above, enlargement might be impractical or unavailable [your library mileage may vary])
    3. Get a stand alone magnifier device for yer book readin'
    (compatible with most books and sidesteps copyright issues)

    I can see how people think that computer + webcam + tray = book reader, so I'm interested to see if anyone out there in candyland has found a good setup for this.

    But yes, this is a thing that visually impaired people have to deal with that so far only seems to have been solved by a handful of companies.

    • by ArhcAngel (247594)
      Since the question is rolling your own perhaps Document Cameras [wikipedia.org] designed specifically for the task would be a better choice. They can be connected to multiple types of displays no computer needed. It was mentioned he wanted to hold the camera but also connect the PC to a TV. One makes me think he wants a mobile solution the other could use a stationary device.

      Here are a couple of places from a quick search
      TouchBoard [touchboards.com]
      School House Outfitters [schooloutfitters.com]
    • by AntEater (16627) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @04:55PM (#42661017) Homepage

      There are some issues here that you're not addressing and most of them are economic. I have a family member that is legally blind and can only read with massive magnification. These CCD units are great but they cost thousands of dollars. Admittedly, it's a limited market but the manufacturers price the units assuming that some state or federal agency will be buying them - not the end user. They are dead simple with today's technology but still are priced like they're wired with gold circuits. If someone can find a supporting government or non-profit agency to help them, then they're good to go. Otherwise, they need to cough up a big chunk of cash which isn't easy for someone with very limited financial resources, as most visually impaired individuals tend to be.

      Ebooks are expensive. Large print books are expensive and very, very limited in availability. Traditional lense magnifiers often do not provide adequate magnification or do not address the visual difficulty sufficiently.

      When I was first looking at purchasing one of these units I was seriously outraged at the prices charged for a system that has less than $100 worth of hardware. They are essentially little more than a simple flat panel monitor, web camera, LED light and some light image processing software (invert, color masks, etc) on a stand that allows the book to slide around. I would absolutely *LOVE* to see someone come up with a good system for putting a webcam and small system together for reading - it would be great to open up the opportunities for people without the means or assistance to get a reader and, almost as wonderful, would be to put the screws to these companies that are charging such a ridiculous markup on the hardware. Unfortunately, the quality of web cameras isn't that hot but maybe there are some exceptions. I wonder if this could make for a cool Raspberry Pi project.

      • One of the recommendations I made was enlargement which some libraries are sometimes capable of doing at request or are members of partnerships with institutions/groups that provide materials for the visually impaired. If a book does not yet exist in large print form they can make them (at a cost of materials usually).

        I live in Canada, so I was helped through the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), I'm sure there must be a regional equivalent where you live, get in contact with them and they s

      • Ebooks are expensive. Large print books are expensive and very, very limited in availability.

        Bookshare.org membership is $50/year, unless you're a student or too poor, in which case it's free. They have 175K-ish ebooks for anyone with a print reading disability, and they're adding more all the time. I read a book every week or two from them. I strongly recommend having a screen reader play them rather than suffering with something like 40 WPM if your vision is over 20/200. I listen between 600 and 800 WPM, and enjoy books now more than ever. i translate them into wav files, and play them on my

  • by bfandreas (603438) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @02:25PM (#42659295)
    My grandma used big, huge magnifying glasses.
    Are we hitting some kind of magnifying barrier or why the Rube-Goldberg solution?

    It's propably easier on the ants, tho.
  • why webcam? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm (69642) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @02:26PM (#42659307)

    I'm mystified why it has to be a webcam, other than the joy of complexity.

    I am personally involved in two "scenes" where other participants a couple decades grayer than myself need similar tech and both use plain ole cameras hooked up to TVs.

    I can easily solder 0402 SMD by hand (I kid you not, and I've assembled working N5AC microwave oscillator kits to prove it.. the main vco inductor is a 0402 as are a bunch of the bypass caps. Also I know several model machinists (of the homemade steam engine variety) who use toolpost mounted microscopes to see little stuff, also some of them are pretty young, like the guys trying to machine a research medical adapter between a hypo needle and some medical research "thing".

    Anyway the killer for hand/eye coordination is latency. A simple camcorder is fast enough, a webcam no freaking way. Also the "boot time" of a camcorder is faster than any PC, not to mention "application launch". No software updates, no viruses (other than the ones you're looking at under the microscope LOL).

    I do know that one huge user of "webcam glued to gear" is medical examiners / pathologists because its easier to import CSI style evidence into a report edited on a computer if you use a webcam. Otherwise stay away from webcams !

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      Mostly because people want to involve complexity. There are a LOT of optical only solutions that will work better than any webcam+PC+TV setup on this planet.

      I suggest NOT helping grandma this way. get them something that does not need to be booted and will work without a virus scanner.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        Mostly because people want to involve complexity. There are a LOT of optical only solutions that will work better than any webcam+PC+TV setup on this planet.

        I suggest NOT helping grandma this way. get them something that does not need to be booted and will work without a virus scanner.

        Yeah, it seems ye olde camcorder, while costing maybe a bit more than a decent webcam (still, you can find an HD camcorder on clearance for under $200) would fulfill the need quite nicely.

        If it's an HDTV, use an HDMI cable and

    • by AntEater (16627)

      I'm mystified why it has to be a webcam, other than the joy of complexity.

      It's more than just senseless complexity. Some visual impairments are helped significantly by having the ability to invert the colors, convert to grey scale, convert to straight up black and white, filter out certain colors, provide a reading "line" which can easily be done with software but not so easily with a basic camera - not that it is impossible. Today, a web camera and 20" flat panel monitor can be purchased for less than 10% of the cost of a commercial CCTV magnification system. I do agree that

    • by jonadab (583620)
      > I'm mystified why it has to be a webcam, other than the joy of complexity.

      It's an example of the X Y problem, documented thoroughly here:
      http://www.perlmonks.org/?node_id=542341

      Complexity has nothing to do with it. People see advertisements for uber-cheap webcams, know that webcams are designed to be hooked up to a computer, and think to themselves, "Maybe one of those things will solve my problem, and I'll only be out eight bucks!"

      The question _should_ read, "Dad can't read anything less than a 36-po
    • )

      Phew, stopped it.

  • The camera makes little difference for still program material. Color balance is typically handled automatically, but can always be adjusted.

    I would say that you are focusing on the wrong aspect of your system - coming up with a good stand is probably going to affect usability much ore an the camera. I would suggest starting with a nice copy stand and maybe going from there.

    • by vlm (69642)

      coming up with a good stand is probably going to affect usability much ore an the camera.

      Talk to a real photographer or optical dude about depth of focus, which is going to be a big deal. The "ideal stand" from a focusing standpoint may not be flat, although that's going to screw up astigmatism of the lens system (square won't be square on the screen)... Also lighting is incredibly important. Its surprising how much noise and garbage your eyes filter out on a live model that is glaring ugly on a fixed image, and (real) photographers are experts at using tech to filter that stuff out before i

      • I am a real photographer dumbass. I have been doing commercial photography for fifteen years. I use copy stands all the time. A good one will have several lights attached at the factory.

        Anyway, depth of *field* is important to consider, but combining the fact that webcams have tiny sensors, with the fact that the system will be able to use longer exposures, makes the lens / camera system of secondary importance to the choice of stand, which will make all the difference. The teeny weeny sensors in webcam

  • Software with a "steady cam" feature is a good. It will remove jitter that will occur from holding the camera with your hand.

  • Webcams are often pretty poor quality. The main factor in cameras is the sensor size (not MP, but physical size - a big sensor captures more light). But a good sensor is more expensive, and heavy. And it's not fun trying to figure out webcam specs, as they are often simply not well publicised.

    The first step - get good lighting. A bad camera with good lighting is better than a good camera with bad lighting. Unless you have something as powerful as a high-end DSLR, you simply need good lighting.

    If you have go

    • I can't really see someone (successfully) holding a book in one hand, SLR in another, while also focusing their attention on a TV. I suppose if you used a camera stand, but then you might as well just use an ELMO (document camera, not the character) which was, quite frankly, designed for similar purposes and wouldn't cost you more than an average SLR. Not to mention I have yet to see a DSLR whose complexity of operation wouldn't get in the way of pleasure reading for something like this.

  • by TWX (665546) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @02:40PM (#42659499)
    My in-laws have severe macular degeneration to the point that they gave up driving, and my mother-in-law loves to read, and we ended up buying a technician's visor with four magnifier lenses for her, and she's able to read paperback books with it. They had looked up expensive devices (one of the biggest vision-assistance companies is in the greater Boston area and they even went to the showroom) but found that this fairly simple optical solution worked best.
  • An Android device with a large screen and support for MHL would be ideal. It would be highly portable, given the widespread use of HDMI all you need is an adapter, and the cameras provided with most modern tablets/phones are as good (if not better) then most webcam solutions.

    • Why bother with connecting to a TV when there are now android phones and tablets with built-in 1080p IPS screens?
      • Because that was the whole point to the original article? I'm guessing a 7" or 10" tablet, magnified to the size he wants, isn't going to hold much text.

        Now, if your question was, "why don't they just buy an ebook and increase the font size?", then I could agree with you. This comes off as a kind of a backward use of technology. One of the biggest reasons I prefer reading on various devices these days is because I can bump up the font size and read without having my contacts in. It may be it's a situation

        • If grandma is going to sit at the normal 6 to 8 feet from the 1080p HDTV, I am not sure the text will be any more legible than on a 1080p 10 inch android tablet held 1 foot from here face. With a tablet-only solution the touch screen can provide a less intimidating and more intuitive user interface than a linux PC + mouse would. Finally, the tablet-only solution is a far more portable and uncomplicated setup. Grandma can read her paper books anywhere she wants (car, bus, train, front porch, doctor offic
  • Last year I set up a facial recogintion system. It needed to be able see faces in crowd clear enough to determine age and gender. While this is a different requirement from what you need it did share three features. It ran on Linux, used a webcam, and needed high quality. The recommend cameras, which we used succesfully, were the Logitech HD series. While not a cheap camera I think they are still reasonably priced, do a good job and work with Linux (Cent OS in our case).
  • You may already have a digital camera (still or camcorder)with video or hdmi out which you can plug into a TV or monitor. These have the advantage of zoom and autofocus and often have a power input for continuous use. It's steadier and less tiring to use a tripod or copy stand. For camcorders, see the thread at http://www.avsforum.com/t/1302280/low-cost-cam-with-live-hdmi-pass-through [avsforum.com] Another choice is to get some strong binocular loupe glasses from China via ebay. They come in a variety of strengths and
  • My Dad has degenerating eyes (only one eye works) but he says if he couldn't read spy novels he doesn't know what he'd do. He is not into technology. He uses a simple hand-held magnifying glass to read large-print novels from the library. We got him a hand-held one with big lens and LED but the brightness startled him (he's in his 80s) and the magnification was inappropriate, or something, can't use it. Though we'll try again maybe. Assistive tools (we've also been trying a new cheap hearing aid but not sur

  • I know it doesn't fit the 'hand held' part of the requirements, but in education there's a tool designed for viewing printed documents on a projector.
    SMART does a document camera which has a built in stand to hold it over the text, an LED light to help in low light conditions, and will output to VGA or DVI/HDMI directly with no need for a computer, so you can just plug straight into a modern TV or any computer monitor. It also can act as a USB webcam as well.
    It does wonderful resolution (720p isn't bad for

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