Review: OBSBOT Tiny – it’s like an AI camera operator for your Zoom calls
If you’re tired of boring-looking webcams, the OBSBOT Tiny might be what you’re looking for.
Webcams are an invaluable tool, even before the pandemic stopped us from meeting up in person. They’re used for everything from online school to meetings, to calling Grandma, keeping us connected.
The thing is, they haven’t really changed much since their invention, with higher image resolutions being one of the only real changes. That’s starting to change, with things like integrated lighting, stereo microphones, and other features coming in innovative webcams.
One such innovation is AI-powered focusing and tracking, which keeps you in the frame even if you decide to move around while on your call. We’re looking at one such AI-powered webcam today, the $199 OBSBOT Tiny.
Big price, tiny name. Is it worth the cash?
So, what’s it all about?
If you’re tired of boring-looking webcams, the OBSBOT Tiny might be what you’re looking for. The sleek design hides a two-axis gimbal, so it’s the smallest Pan, Tilt, Zoom (PTZ) camera I’ve seen for desktop use. The camera has a 1/4 /20 thread mount for tripod use, and it’s also got a magnetic base so you can stick it on the included mount, or on anything with a metal surface.
It outputs a 1080p image at 30fps, has a digital zoom of x2 maximum, an 90-degree field-of-view, and dual Omni-directional mics with noise cancellation. The gimbal can pan or tilt, with a +/- 150-degree pan and a +/- 45-degree tilt. Both motors can turn at 120-degrees per second.
The only cable you need is the included USB-A to USB-C cable. There is a DC port for supplementary power, but I can’t think of many situations you’d need to use that, unless maybe if you’re using the Tiny with a mobile device that couldn’t provide enough power over the USB cable.
The software package has manual controls for the gimbal’s two axes, along with controls for zoom, tracking lock/off, and things like firmware updates, and hotkeys so you can use your keyboard to control the webcam. It also lets you control some of the camera image qualities, like turning off auto white balance.
So, is it any good?
The Tiny has onboard AI that controls the 2-axis gimbal to keep you in the frame while on camera. It’s also got auto-focus, which is something not always found on any webcam. That subject tracking is fantastic, keeping me in the frame, no matter if I stood up, moved around, or otherwise fidgeted. The movement is silky smooth, and always managed to stick me into exactly the center.
It also has gesture control, with two pre-set gestures programmed in. An open hand gesture tells the camera to lock on the subject nearest to the hand (or unlock if it’s already locked on a subject). Making an “L” shape with your thumb and forefinger tells the camera to zoom, either to 2x or to 1x depending on which level of zoom it’s already at. I could these worked well for me, once I got used to the distance from my face that the AI wanted me to use it at. I can see this being handy in a classroom, limiting the number of times you’d need to go back to the computer.
Okay, maybe temper your expectations here. For all of its clutch AI tracking, it’s still a tiny (no pun intended) webcam sensor. If you’re going to be using it in low-light surroundings, the image quality is going to suffer. The auto white balancing and exposure are a little over-aggressive, leading to blown-out images.
That’s also true for using it in spaces with windows behind you. It’s going to look blown out unless you play around with the exposure settings. If you’ve got a solid wall behind you though, the webcam works well and adjusts to the lighting conditions quickly.
Color accuracy was pretty good, as was the overall image quality. I wasn’t happy with the skin tone that the Tiny pulled for me, but that might be part of the blown highlights in the scene, so YMMV here.
The two onboard Omni-directional microphones sound better than most webcam mics and can be used for presentations in a pinch. You’ll want to upgrade your audio if you do a lot of video presentations anyway, so you can just disable Tiny’s mics in that case.
So, should I buy it?
Don’t let that $199 price tag put you off, the OBSBOT Tiny is worth it. The AI subject tracking is something usually found on much more expensive cameras and works exceptionally well.
It’s plug and play, so anyone can get it running and the built-in mics were a happy surprise in sound quality. The Tiny is slightly held back by its tiny sensor, but that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
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