Choosing the Appropriate Video Magnifier

Video magnifiers (also called CCTVs- Closed Circuit Televisions) can be helpful for many students with visual impairments.  The variety of video magnifiers can be overwhelming.  This article seeks to help teachers and parents think through the factors in selecting the optimal video magnifier for their student.  Under each question, there are examples to try to guide the reader.  Readers can jump to the sections that pertain to them without reading the whole article. 

Bear in mind that any brand names that are mentioned are used as examples, not to endorse or review the products.  Links for those products are included in the comparison table at the bottom of the article.  Please note that this article does not address handheld video magnifiers, only those with tablet-sized screens or larger.

General Tips:

  • Involve the Student- Talk through these questions with your student.  If possible, let them see and try the device through a trial, low vision evaluation, or product demonstration.   The last thing you want to happen is for them to reject the device because there is something they do not like about it that you did not think of.
  • See Devices in Person- Do not just order devices blindly.  Seize the opportunity at conferences to thoroughly go through exhibits to compare devices.  Make relationships with vendors who carry multiple product lines.  Work with low vision specialists or assistive technology centers to see devices.
  • Future Proof- Think a few years in advance.  Do not buy a difficult to move desktop video magnifier for student in 5th grade when you know the child will be changing classes throughout the day in 6th grade, unless you are in a district that has other equipment available for those needs.

How portable does the device need to be?

  • If portability is not important, desktop video magnifiers will provide the best screen size and camera quality. 
  • If portability is important, there are a wide-range of devices under 10 pounds that are dedicated video magnifiers, tablet-based systems, and external cameras.
  • The following sections are broken down by portability. 

What type of access does the student need?

Categories include:

  • Near (papers and books)
  • Distance and Self-Viewing (the marker board, SMART Board, or Promethean Board; turning camera toward his or herself to view for grooming)
  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR: scanning of material that will read aloud for the student to listen or follow along with visually)

Near Only

  • If portability is not a factor, you may consider a traditional desktop video magnifier design with a screen above an XY tray.
  • If it is important to only have near, a device such as the Topaz PHD may fit your needs.
  • If it is acceptable for the device to also have distance, devices with cameras that can be moved, such as the Acrobat, Onyx, MagniLink Zip, Acrobat Mini, and VisioBook, may meet your needs.

Near and Distance

  • If portability is important, “luggable” devices with camera arms or tablet-based systems with external cameras are worth thinking about.  Examples of “luggable” devices include the Acrobat Mini, E-Bot, MagniLink Zip, and VisioBook.  Tablet-based systems include the Mercury 12 (Windows tablet based system in 2018) or Connect 12 (Android tablet based system).
  • If portability is not important, you can use a desktop device, such as the Acrobat or Onyx.

Near and OCR

  • If portability is important, see the “Near, Distance, and OCR” section since all portable devices with near and OCR also have distance options.
  • If portability and distance are not needed, a desktop video magnifier with a traditional fixed camera will give you the best quality and efficiency.  An example is the Optelec Clearview C Speech.
  • See “Extra Notes about OCR Devices” below.

Near, Distance, and OCR

  • If portability is important, tablet or computer based systems will be your best option. Tablet-based systems include the Connect 12 and Mercury 12.  External cameras that hook into laptops include the Transformer HD (also pairs with tablets) and the ReadIt Scholar HD.
  • If portability is not important, desktop video magnifiers including the Onyx OCR and DaVinci Pro will be a good option.
  • See “Extra Notes about OCR Devices” below.

Extra Notes about OCR Devices:

  • Not all OCR is created equal.  Processing speed, accuracy, and the ability to capture an entire page are all considerations.  The more reliant a student is expected to be on OCR, the more important it is to have a premium OCR device.  For example, the GoVision is a desktop magnifier that basically offers OCR as a perk for the same price as devices without OCR, but its accuracy has not compared well in side-by-side comparisons we have done in our clinic with the Onyx OCR.  We still often recommend this device if a student may just be beginning to dabble in OCR, such as a younger student or a student in the early stages of a progressive eye condition. 
  • Be very cautious about getting an OCR device for a young reader.  They may begin to rely on OCR instead of practicing their visual reading skills.  Some devices may be available with remotes or settings that do not allow the student to access OCR if you feel strongly about going ahead to get an OCR device for a young student.
  • If your device has OCR, it is still important to consider the device’s live camera capability.  Even if the OCR feature is useful, your student will still need to use the live mode at least for filling out worksheets and forms.  

Is it preferable that the device also have additional tablet functions?

  • If so, either the Mercury 12 or Connect 12 are tablet-based systems.

Is it preferable that the device can be attached to a laptop or paired with a tablet instead of needing a separate screen?

  • Cameras that can work with both laptops and tablets include the Transformer HD and E-Bot.
  • Laptop-based cameras include the ReadIt Scholar HD, MagniLink S Premium, and Onyx Portable HD.

What external camera connection is best for your student?

  • Some external distance cameras offer a dedicated Wi-Fi connection to your student’s laptop or computer.  This is handy to have a wireless way to connect but can become a problem if your student wants to simultaneously use the internet and the distance camera.  Some devices, such as the Connect 12, only offer this option.  Other devices, such as the Transformer HD, can connect either through the Wi-Fi connection or an HDMI cable depending on what tablet or computer they are being used with.  Other devices offer HDMI only, such as the ReadIt Scholar HD.  The trade-off boils down to dealing with one more wire or having to switch your Wi-Fi connection often.    

Is a touchscreen device preferable?

  • If your student has a reason that using a touchscreen device is preferable (ease of use, motivation, or some unique physical situation), you can pursue a tablet or computer based device or the Onyx OCR (it is only touchscreen for the OCR component, not the video magnifier component).

Does the student need fewer buttons or less complicated controls?

  • Minimizing the functions the device has will minimize how complicated the controls are.  For example, if the student only needs the device for near then get a near only device such as a Topaz.
  • A device where you can take away the control, like the Onyx Deskset HD, may be helpful for a highly distractible student.
  • Companies have done an increasingly better job with high visibility, easily identified buttons.  A few models this is true of are the VisioBook, MagniLink Zip, Onyx Deskset, and GoVision.

Are there special considerations, such as workspace size or student positioning, that may influence which device you choose?

  • If workspace is a concern, a device with a camera arm, such as an Acrobat or Onyx Deskset, will have a smaller footprint on the desk than a more traditional design with a full XY tray.  If even those are too big, a portable device like an Acrobat Mini Ultra might be the way to go.
  • For positioning, it is important to look at how screens can tilt.  Portable devices like the MagniLink Zip and VisioBook let the screen come right down to the student’s eye level.  Many desktop video magnifiers have highly adjustable screens like the Topaz and Merlin.

Are there any motor concerns that limit use of an XY tray or manipulation of material?

  • If this is a concern, consider a device with controls to move the camera, such as the E-Bot.
  • Relying more heavily on the OCR functions of a device will also help with this because most OCR devices automatically scroll the text.

What are the lighting conditions the device will be used in?

  • If the lighting conditions may be dim, such as in a home or a classroom where lights are kept low, you may need to consider a device with its own light, such as the GoVision.  Devices without their own light, such as the Onyx Deskset HD, can struggle and even flash in low light.

What is the student’s reading speed?

  • If the student is a very quick reader, it becomes especially important to find a device with a camera that does not lag as the student moves the text.  Honestly, the best way to test this is in person.  It is important to realize that most devices maintain a clearer picture for fast reading when in natural color mode than when in an enhanced contrast mode.  Full HD models may provide increased clarity.

How much handwriting are you expecting your student to do under this device?

  • Although not always true, students commonly find that it is easier to learn to handwrite under a device with a camera arm instead of the traditional screen in front video magnifier design.  It is possible to write well under either type of device with practice, though.

Do you need an external HDMI Connection to use the video magnifier screen for a tablet or computer?

  • Many desktop video magnifiers, such as the GoVision and DaVinci, offer HDMI input to display other devices on a larger screen, but some do not, such as the Onyx.

What accessories do you need?

  • When choosing a desktop device, also consider providing an XY tray.  Devices that do not have built-in XY trays, such as those with camera arms, can be used with mini XY trays that are available through most video magnifier vendors.  Trays improve consistency when reading by helping keep material straight as it is moved after the student has gotten some practice.
  • If you plan to move the device or need somewhere to store it, consider ordering the rolling bag that is available for many desktop models.  “Luggable” models will likely already come with a bag.

Common Video Magnifier Models

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of devices and that features of devices change frequently. This is just intended to give you a possible starting point for research.  To simplify the list, different models of the same device (Acrobat, Acrobat Ultra HD, etc.) are not listed separately unless there are differences in the features marked on the chart. 

Model

Manufacturer/Vendor

“Traditional” Screen in Front Design

Camera Arm Design

Near

Distance

OCR

Tablet-Based

Desktop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acrobat

Enhanced Vision

N

Y

Y

Y

N

N

Clearview C

VFO (Optelec)

Y

N

Y

N

N

N

ClearView C Speech

VFO (Optelec)

Y

N

Y

N

Y

N

DaVinci

Enhanced Vision

N

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

GoVision

HIMS

N

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

Lifestyle HD

HIMS

Y

N

Y

N

N

N

MagniLink Vision (Customizable product with varying features)

LVI

 

 

Y

N

Y

Y

N

N

MagniLink Vision TTS

LVI

Y

N

Y

Y

Y

N

Merlin

Enhanced Vision

Y

N

Y

N

N

N

Merlin OCR

Enhanced Vision

Y

N

Y

N

Y

N

Onyx Deskset

VFO (Freedom Scientific)

N

Y

Y

Y

N

N

Onyx OCR

VFO (Freedom Scientific)

N

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

Prodigi Desktop

Humanware

Y

N

Y

N

Y

N

Topaz

VFO (Freedom Scientific)

Y

N

Y

N

N

N

“Luggable”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acrobat Mini

Enhanced Vision

N

Y

Y

Y

N

N

MagniLink Zip 13”

LVI

Y

N

Y

Y

N

N

Mercury 12

TrySight

N/A

N/A

Y

Y

Y

Y

Connect 12/MATT Connect

Humanware/APH

N/A

N/A

Y

Y

Y

Y

Topaz PhD

VFO (Freedom Scientific)

Y

N

Y

N

N

N

Traveller HD

VFO (Optelec)

Unique design that doesn’t fit these categories

Y

N

N

N

VisioBook*

Baum*

Y

N

Y

Y

N

N

Camera Only

 

Connects to:

 

 

 

 

E-Bot

HIMS

iPad, Android Tablet, Computer

Y

Y

N

N/A

E-Bot ADV or PRO

HIMS

iPad, Android Tablet, Computer

Y

Y

Y

N/A

MagniLink S

LVI

Computer, Monitor (no OCR for Monitor only)

Y

Y

Y

N/A

Onyx Portable HD (requires OpenBook for OCR)

VFO (Freedom Scientific)

Computer, Monitor (no OCR for Monitor only)

Y

Y

Y

N/A

ReadIt Scholar HD

Manufacturer: VisionAid International

US Vendor: Irie AT

Computer

Y

Y

Y

N/A

Transformer HD

Enhanced Vision

iPad, Android Tablet, Computer, Monitor (no OCR for monitor only)

Y

Y

Y

N/A

*The VisioBook is produced by BAUM Retec AG.  The German parent company of BAUM USA is currently in bankruptcy, and the product is currently unavailable.  It is possible this product’s status may change in the future.

Collage of choosing appropriate video magnifier

Comments

Posted by VeroniiiicaJan 10, 2018

I own the E-Bot Pro and Eschenbach SmartLux and love them. My university also has an Onyx DeskSet in the testing labs and assistive technology labs. I used an older CCTV in high school and found it extremely frustrating because the screen would randomly flicker and shut off, so having the high tech video magnifiers is awesome!

Posted by ljonesTVIJan 10, 2018

Thank you for your input, Veronica.  That's an excellent example of how important having appropriate equipment is and why it's worth investing in current equipment.  As an aside, thank you for all the wonderful work you are doing with your blog.  I often share it with students and parents.  

Posted by Neal MckenzieJan 10, 2018

Wonderful article, way to lay it all out there! We have a lot of magnifiers on this list out at the schools. This chart will be a huge help when explaining options and features to teachers. We also have been using the small wireless camera's in conjuction with the students iPad which have worked pretty well as  inexpensive distance viewing solution. 

Posted by ljonesTVIJan 11, 2018

Thank you for the feedback, Neal.  Which distance-only camera are you using?  We've provided a couple Kodak PixPros that have worked well for students who only wanted distance viewing.  Sometimes people use the Sony cameras, like what comes with the Connect 12.   

Add new comment

Read more about: Assistive Technology