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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 May 2007 Issue  Volume 8  Number 3

Product Evaluation

Several Models in One: A Review of HumanWare's SmartView Xtend

Has the traditional desktop closed-circuit television (CCTV) really changed much over the past few decades? If you have not shopped for a desktop unit lately, you may not think so. If, however, you are looking to upgrade your current desktop CCTV or to buy your first CCTV, you may be overwhelmed by the number of manufacturers and CCTV models that are on the market.

You may be at a loss in deciding which features you really need and which you do not, and cost is always a consideration. For example, do you need a black-and-white or color model? Which size and type of monitor are best for you? Do you see high-contrast artificial colors best? Do you need a computer-compatible model? Does the height of the CCTV's monitor need to be adjustable? What happens if you buy one model and soon realize that you need an additional feature because your type of work or vision changes? Are you stuck, or do you have to buy another model? If you have these questions and concerns, you are certainly not alone.

HumanWare has recently replaced its line of SmartView desktop CCTVs with one product, the SmartView Xtend, which is intended to minimize the fear of "buyer's remorse" by providing one unit that can be customized and upgraded at a later time.

A seated woman reads magnified text in high contrast. A man, standing behind her, watches over her shoulder.

Caption: The SmartView Xtend showing magnified text in high contrast.

This is a new philosophy in the CCTV market. For the most part, CCTV manufacturers sell a few different models--a black-and-white model, a color model, a color model with some advanced features, and a computer-compatible model, for example. The idea of being able to upgrade a CCTV by using an "upgrade key" or plugging in an external component is unique to the market. Thus, we at AccessWorld wanted to find out how and how well this new concept works. This review of the SmartView Xtend discusses the product's documentation, its physical design and features, the upgrade options, and the process involved in upgrading the product and highlights both the positive characteristics and those that could be improved.

The SmartView Xtend

Documentation

The SmartView Xtend comes with a Quick Start Guide and a User Guide. The Quick Start Guide is presented in a foldout style, similar to a road map. The 17-inch by 24-inch foldout shows six large pictures that are supposed to provide information on setting up and using the Xtend. There are no captions or instructions under the pictures, and the pictures do not provide enough information to get a customer started, especially if the person is unfamiliar with CCTVs. For some, this format could be confusing because they would not be sure what the pictures are trying to explain.

The spiral-bound User Guide is printed in an easier-to-read, approximately 22-point font, and the instructions are easily understandable. It even gives "Handy Hints" about how to use CCTVs better, including such information as tips on reducing glare and using the Page Locator button. The User Guide presents information in three languages: English, French, and Spanish. For a person with low vision, these options may not be apparent at first. It may be helpful to have protruding tabs that separate the languages more prominently to make the preferred languages easier to find.

In addition, two main problems with the User Guide should be addressed. First, there are 18 documented errors in the User Guide. These errors are noted in a separate insert labeled "SmartView Errata." This insert needs to be read along with the User Guide, or a person could be confused while learning to use the CCTV. The insert also needs to be kept with the User Guide for future reference. When there are this many errors in a manual, an updated printing is in order. Mistakes happen; when they do, they need to be corrected. The User Guide should be error free.

The second issue with the User Guide is that it does not mention the display-adjustment buttons on the LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor. The labels on the buttons are too small to be read by most people with low vision. According to a HumanWare representative, these buttons are not to be used to adjust the monitor's display; only the Xtend's control panel controls should be used. A customer would certainly wonder what the buttons do and would be at a loss when looking for the answer in the documentation. The fact that the controls are on the monitor should be addressed, even if they are not to be used to adjust the Xtend's display.

Physical Design and Features

The SmartView Xtend desktop CCTV is 11 inches high (without the monitor), 14 inches wide, and 18 inches deep and weighs 27 pounds. Its reading table (often called the X-Y table) is 14 inches square and has a left and right travel (X dimension) distance of 5.4 inches and a foreword and backward travel (Y dimension) distance of 11.4 inches. The reading table has adjustable margin stops at the left and right and friction-pad adjustments. There is a working distance of 6 inches between the reading table and the Xtend's auto-focus camera.

Although most VGA and LCD monitors can be used with the Xtend, HumanWare ships it with a 17-inch flat-panel LCD monitor that can be upgraded to a 19-inch flat-panel LCD monitor or a 19-inch TV LCD monitor with built-in speakers and Picture in Picture capability. The speakers and Picture in Picture capability allow you to watch television in a second window on the Xtend's screen while using the SmartView Xtend to read text. The monitor is fitted to the Xtend on an ergonomically designed arm that allows the screen position to be adjusted. The screen can be raised and lowered, can be tilted toward or away from you, can be positioned in a portrait or landscape orientation, and can be swiveled 360 degrees on its arm.

Located above the reading table, the Xtend's front control panel has five main controls--the Text button, Picture button, Zoom knob, Brightness button, and Power button. The Text button is selected when you want to read text. It cycles you through 18 combinations of foreground and background high-contrast colors. The Picture button is selected when you want to look at pictures or when you want to see text or objects in their natural colors. If you have the black-and-white Xtend model, pictures and objects are displayed in gray scale. The Zoom knob is used to adjust the level of magnification. Depending on the size of your monitor, the Xtend can display from 3 times to 68 times magnification. The Brightness button is used to adjust the brightness level of the display; you can set the brightness level in the Text mode separately from the brightness level in the Photo mode. Holding down the Brightness button for a few seconds displays the Xtend's Main Menu, which allows you to adjust a number of settings, including brightness (for both the Text and Photo modes); Contrast (for both the Text and Photo modes); Color (for the Photo mode); Normal/Enhanced Color, Output Display Frequency (60Hz or 75Hz); Beeps (on or off); Language (English, U.S. English, and European languages); Region; System Information; and Preferences (for Modules 2 and 3 only). While in use, the Xtend's Power button lights up and displays a bright green light to indicate that the power is on.

Upgrading the SmartView Xtend

The basic black-and-white Xtend model comes standard with high-contrast false colors that are used for reading text. These false colors are normally an advanced feature on CCTVs from other manufacturers. If you purchase this basic SmartView Xtend model, it can be upgraded to a color model, features can be added, and it can become computer compatible without the need to buy an entirely new unit. By purchasing upgrade modules, you can increase the functionality of your existing unit. According to HumanWare, "each of the SmartView Xtend modules has been designed to suit the different needs of our customers."

The five upgrade options, called Modules, include an upgrade Module 1, an upgrade Module 2, an upgrade from Module 2 to Module 3, and an upgrade Module 3.

Color Upgrade

If you want to upgrade to the color model from the black-and-white model to see colors in pictures and objects, contact HumanWare and purchase the Color Upgrade Kit. You will be shipped an Upgrade Key, which you insert into the Xtend. After approximately two seconds, the Upgrade Key enables the color feature and is then removed. You then have a color model of the SmartView Xtend. When the color feature is activated, you have the choice of seeing pictures in their realistic colors or adjusting the color settings to view the picture in enhanced, more saturated, color.

Module 1

If you want to add features to your unit, you can purchase Module 1, which includes the Simple Remote that provides the functionality of the front control panel, as well as some extra features. The cord from the Simple Remote plugs into the back of the Xtend and allows you to position the 3-inch by 11-inch remote anywhere you like--on a desktop, in your lap, or held in your hand. The Simple Remote has the Text button, Picture button, Zoom knob, and Brightness button, just like the front control panel. It also includes a Page Locator button, Preset button, Lines and Blinds button, and Plus and Minus buttons.

The SmartView Xtend showing magnified text from a book on its reading table. The Simple Remote from Module 1 is positioned in front of the reading table.

Caption: The SmartView Xtend shown with the Simple Remote from Module 1.

The Page Locator button is used to help find your place on a page. When this button is pressed, a red dot shines down on your reading material, and a red square is displayed at the corresponding point at the center of the screen. To turn this feature off, you press the button again.

The Preset button is used to preset a magnification level of your choice. If there is a magnification level you like to use often, you can save that level in the machine's memory. Saving the magnification level may increase your speed in finding your optimal magnification for documents that you read often, such as newspapers.

The Lines and Blinds button is used to set reading guides. Repeatedly pressing this button cycles you through the reading-guide options. The display cycles through horizontal lines to assist with general reading tasks, vertical lines to assist with reading columns of text, horizontal blinds that black out the top and bottom of the display to hide adjacent lines of text, and vertical blinds that black out the sides of the display to assist with reading columns of text. The Plus and Minus buttons are used to set the spacing of the lines and blinds to accommodate your reading needs or to shift them across the screen.

Module 2

A more advanced upgrade, Module 2, includes the functionality of Module 1. Instead of the Simple Remote, Module 2 includes a Keypad that also provides on-screen clock, calendar, and calculator features.

Pressing the Time key on the keypad displays the time, day, month, and year in the corner of the screen; pressing it a second time turns it off.

Pressing the Calculator key on the keypad displays the calculator in the corner of the screen; pressing it again turns it off. The four-function calculator with a memory feature can display up to a nine-digit number and is operated by the number pad located on the keypad.

Pressing the Size key on the keypad cycles you through the five different size options for the Time and Calculator displays.

Pressing the Arrow keys on the keypad moves the reading lines and blinds up and down and increases or decreases the separation of the reading lines and blinds. The Arrow keys also change the position of the Time, Date, and Calculator displays on the screen and move between items in the onscreen menus.

The Preference menu is available within the Main menu with Module 2 and Module 3. It allows you to make minor modifications to the Date and Calculator displays.

Module 3

The most advanced upgrade, Module 3, has the functionality of Module 2, as well as the ability to display images from a personal computer or external video camera. It comes with the same keypad as Module 2. With Module 3, however, the PC key on the keypad becomes active and allows you to display images from a personal computer or external video camera. With this configuration, you do not need a computer monitor on your desk, but can use the Xtend's screen instead. This could be an option for saving desk space.

Once you connect a personal computer to the SmartView Xtend with the cables provided in the Module 3 Upgrade Kit from HumanWare, you can cycle through the following display options:

  1. a full SmartView Xtend camera view,
  2. a split screen with one side displaying the SmartView Xtend's camera and the other side displaying the computer's screen, and
  3. a full computer screen view.

The split-screen view can be adjusted to display horizontally or vertically, on the top or bottom, and left or right. The Arrow keys can also be used to adjust the proportions of the split screen. While in the split-screen modes, the C key (Cancel) can be used to return to the 50% split-screen factory default display.

All these upgrade kits can be purchased from HumanWare anytime after the initial purchase of a SmartView Xtend. After you purchase the upgrade kit, all you do is plug in and unplug the Upgrade Key, which enables the additional features, and then attach the Simple Remote or Keypad cable to the back of the Xtend, and you are finished. It literally takes only seconds.

What Would Make It Better

With the unique, upgradeable philosophy built into the SmartView Xtend and the various modules with features to fit a wide range of CCTV buyers, there are still some areas that could be modified to make it more usable. In addition to the aforementioned changes to its documentation, the following modifications could improve the product.

  1. Customers may benefit from a greater working distance between the reading table and the camera. Problems can arise when you use a pen with a cap on the end or a new pencil. Writing in thicker books, such as a three-ring binder or my day planner, for example, was awkward. There was not enough clearance to write comfortably without hitting the top of the pen on the camera area under the front control panel. Adding an extra inch or two to the clearance would increase the usability of the Xtend. It would also allow people to view larger objects, such as cooking instructions on boxes of food, more easily or to perform hobbies under the camera.
  2. The Xtend could be more usable if text could be viewed at a lower level of magnification. While this may at first sound strange, people with low vision use lower levels of magnification to gain orientation to a page of text. Four times magnification, the lowest level available on the 17-inch monitor, is a bit large when you want to gain orientation on a page before you turn up the magnification level to read the text.
  3. The keypad that is used with Modules 2 and 3 could be made more user-friendly. First, the buttons should be a high-contrast color from their background, such as the buttons on the Simple Remote. Second, increasing the size of the letters and numbers on the keypad, when possible, would make them even more visible. In addition, the Xtend's usability could be increased by adding the functionality of the Text, Picture, and Brightness buttons to the keypad, as on the Simple Remote.
  4. You should be able to set the Brightness level for the Photo mode to a lower level. For the most part, I set the brightness level well below 50%. Setting the brightness level much higher than 60% tends to wash out both text and colors. Even the 0% brightness level would give many users sufficient light to see photos and read text in the Photo mode.
  5. Modifications to the reading table would also be beneficial. Adding rubberized grips to the front sloping edge of the reading table may help guide its movement. Adding a handle to the front of the reading table may be another possible solution. As it is, you must be careful when you take hold of and move the reading table not to get your fingers caught in the sliding tracks.
  6. It would also be helpful to have a larger font for onscreen menu items that are accessed by holding down the Brightness button for three seconds. A larger font would allow people with lower levels of vision to adjust their preferred settings more independently.
  7. CCTV manufacturers have various opinions for the best placement of a display's controls. Some place them on the monitor; some place them on the reading table; and others, like HumanWare, place them on a front control panel located near the camera. With the new ergonomic arm, if you are short, you can pull the monitor down quite low. The problem that then arises is that the monitor will cover the front control panel. You can reach behind the monitor to make the adjustments or move the monitor out of the way to make adjustments and then move it back into position, but that can be a cumbersome task. A remote, similar to Module 1's Simple Remote but without the additional functions, could be an option to alleviate this situation. With such a remote, the controls would no longer be obstructed for those who need to position the monitor low.

The Bottom Line

The SmartView Xtend represents a step forward in the development of desktop CCTVs because it allows customers to upgrade a more basic model to a more advanced one without having to purchase an entirely new device. Purchasing a module upgrade can save customers money if they need to add functionality in the future because of changes in their vision or the demands of work.

The upgrades are easy to perform without the need for a technician to visit your home or office. The monitor attached to the stable ergonomic arm provides a great benefit over CRT or stationary flat-panel monitors because you can position it as you need to without having to adjust the height of your table or chair.

The Xtend's responsive auto-focus camera and good-quality display, along with the ability to adjust brightness, contrast, and color saturation; to modify the Calendar and Calculator displays; and to position the Simple Remote and keypad controls wherever you wish, make this CCTV customizable. If you are in the market for a desktop CCTV and are concerned about changing vision needs, the upgradeable SmartView Xtend is a model to check out before you make a purchase.

Manufacturer's Comments

"HumanWare would like to thank Lee Huffman and AFB for the insightful review of SmartView Xtend and the many positive comments. In keeping with our ongoing quest for product improvement and quality, we have already taken some of Lee's suggestions into account. For example, we have completely updated the manual, which, we believe, addresses Lee's recommendations. We have also decided to include Module 1 with the base SmartView Xtend unit. This means that all customers now have the added features and the related benefits of the extended remote control, plus the unique option of placing these controls wherever they find them most ergonomically suitable. Also, false colors come free with all units.

"There are some additional SmartView Xtend features about which AccessWorld's readers will be excited:

  1. User-selected color and false color, brightness, and contrast settings are remembered after the unit is turned off. Accordingly, the Xtend is always ready to go when it is turned on, requiring no further adjustment. (On the other hand, Xtend's many user-selectable options are also ideal for multiuser environments, such as schools, libraries, rehabilitation centers, and senior citizens centers.)
  2. In addition to Lee's comments about the quality of the auto-focus and screen display, additional onscreen messages make it easy for users to see what settings they are adjusting.
  3. Almost any external video camera can be used for distance viewing, giving the user a wide range of flexibility. Toggling between the reading camera and an external camera is easily handled with the touch of a button or a foot pedal.
  4. Units that are purchased with 17-inch and 19-inch LCD monitors come already assembled, so as soon is the unit is removed from its shipping box and plugged in, it is ready to go. (Most units are sold through authorized dealers who are happy to handle the setup at the user's location.)

"In addition to the simplicity with which users can currently upgrade their units, as noted in Lee's review, there is another truly exciting benefit. As new software enhancements for SmartView Xtend are developed in the future, users will have the options of adding these improvements to their existing units. The idea is that SmartView Xtend can continue changing as its users' needs change."


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Product Information

Product

SmartView Xtend.

Manufacturer: HumanWare, 1 Expo Place, P.O. Box 3044, Christchurch, New Zealand; phone: +64-3-384-4555; e-mail: <info@humanware.com> web site: <www.humanware.com>.

U.S. Office: 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 800-722-3393; e-mail: <us.sales@humanware.com>.

Price: $1,795 to $3,995 (depending on the model and upgrade options chosen)

Related Articles

How to Buy a CCTV by Carol Farrenkopf
Take Me to myReader: An Evaluation of HumanWare by Lee Huffman


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Copyright © 2007 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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