Transforming Lives for People with Low Vision: An Evaluation of the Transformer, a Computer Compatible Electronic Magnifier from Enhanced Vision
Electronic magnifiers, sometimes called CCTVs, have been around for decades. Since their development, a host of features have been incorporated, and major changes have been made to their physical design making many full-feature models very portable. Improvements over the years have been made, and new features, such as line markers, auto focus, improved color, computer compatibility, picture taking capability, and HD technology, have been added. A much needed shift has happened in the low vision market because people are on the move and need to take their computers and magnification with them. Laptops enable people to take their computers wherever they go. They can be used with screen-magnification software, and they can be used with their electronic magnifiers.
This article evaluates the portable, full-feature Transformer electronic magnifier from Enhanced Vision. The Transformer can be used with a stand-alone monitor and is laptop/computer compatible, weighs less than 3 pounds, and has a rotating camera that allows for desktop, distance, and self-viewing. It has the ability to take a "picture" and save it to the computer. The Transformer and other portable, full-feature, laptop compatible electronic magnifiers also allow a student to sit in different areas of a classroom and read sections of the chalkboard on a laptop screen, a professional to sit at the back of a conference room and watch a presentation on a laptop screen, and a nature lover to watch birds from a kitchen window or from a picnic table at a local park, seeing everything up close on a laptop screen.
To help potential buyers make an informed purchase, this article provides highlights of the product's positive attributes as well as areas that could be improved. Since this type of access technology can be quite expensive, it's important to be as knowledgeable as possible about your options before you make a choice.
The Transformer was evaluated in four main areas: documentation, minimum requirements and product design, set-up and software installation, and features.
The Transformer comes with a User Manual that describes the product, its features, and its setup and use. The User Manual, however, primarily uses 12 point font, which is too small for most people with low vision to read, and it doesn't reach the American Printing House for the Blind's guideline of at least 18 point font for print that is intended for people with low vision. Charts and diagrams in the User Manual use font as small as 6 point, while the manual's drawings and photos are small with many dim or low contrast. As a result of the smaller text fonts and photos, the manual may be of limited use for a person with low vision who is attempting to set up and use the device independently. A User Manual with larger fonts and diagrams and clearer photos would increase its accessibility for the intended user of this product.
A chart showing the keyboard commands for using the Transformer with a computer is shown on page 15 of the User Manual. Including a separate large print quick-reference sheet with this information would be a valuable tool, especially when people are first learning to use the device. Users could keep this quick-reference sheet close by and refer to it more easily.
While the User Manual is quite detailed in its explanation of the product, it would be very helpful to add a few sentences about how to toggle between the Transformer view and the computer view when using the device in conjunction with a PC. This may seem like a simple thing, but adding the information to the User Manual would be beneficial for customers.
System Requirements and Product Design
According to Enhanced Vision, to use the Transformer with your computer/laptop, at minimum, you will need Windows XP (Service Pack 2), an Intel Pentium M 1.5 GHz processor, 512 MB of memory, 1 USB 2.0 high-speed port, a graphics card supporting Directx 8.1, and 100 MB of free hard disk space. It is important to remember that these are the minimum requirements. The more advanced your computer's operating system and components, the better your end results will be using the Transformer or any PC based electronic magnification system.
With this in mind, Enhanced Vision recommends using a computer with Windows Vista or Windows 7, an Intel Core2Duo processor with 2 GB of memory, 1 USB 2.0 high-speed port, NVidia or ATI graphics card, and 100 MB of free hard disk space.
The Transformer is a compact, L-shaped electronic magnifier that sits on a base consisting of two "wish-bone" style legs that create its stable base. This device folds down easily and slips into its carrying case with a shoulder strap making it extremely convenient to take from place to place.
Caption: The Transformer
The Transformer has six buttons: "Find," "Power," "Mode," a" Zoom" wheel, "Freeze," and "Rotate." These controls give you access to many of the product's features. The camera rotates 330 degrees to provide distance viewing, reading and writing viewing, and self-viewing. The attached reading lens should be folded to cover the camera for optimal clarity when in the Reading and Writing viewing mode. There is also a built in LED light underneath the camera arm that can provide additional lighting in the Reading and Writing mode. The included VGA cable is used to connect the device to a monitor, and the included USB cable connects it to a PC, which provides additional functionality. The Transformer is powered through an AC adaptor and has a built-in rechargeable battery that can also be used to power the device for up to four hours when an outlet is not available.
Set-Up and Software Installation
The Transformer comes pre-assembled. To set up the device, you simply unfold it, plug in the AC adapter, and connect it to a VGA monitor or PC.
The Transformer software is pre-loaded onto the device itself, and its installation to your computer is easy to perform if you have screen-magnification software running. To install the Transformer software to your computer, simply connect the device to your PC via the USB 2.0 cable, start your computer, and follow the prompts on your screen. The screen-magnification software will enlarge the prompts to make them readable to people with low vision, and when the installation is complete, the Transformer viewer window will automatically open.
The Transformer is easy to transport from place to place. When you get to your destination, you unfold the camera arm, plug it in (if not using the built-in battery), and connect it to your choice of a VGA monitor or PC. If you are using a PC, connect its USB cable to your laptop, start the computer and screen-magnification program, select the EnhancedVision icon on your desktop, press the "Power" button on the camera, and you are ready to go.
It is important to note the Transformer's Viewer application is compatible with Dolphin SuperNova version 11.5 to 12, Ai Squared ZoomText version 9.xx, and Issist iZoom 3.xx. While the Transformer Viewer application is running, you can open the above mentioned screen magnification programs and simultaneously run the software and Viewer application.
The number of features available with the Transformer increases when you transition from using it with a VGA monitor to using it with a PC. The following features are available when using a VGA monitor or a PC.
3 Viewing Modes
To increase its versatility and functionality, the Transformer can be used to see your desktop, yourself, or at a distance. To change the viewing mode, turn the position of the camera by rotating it on the arm. The device also has a memory feature that remembers the last setting in each mode and automatically returns to the last setting used in each mode.
When in Reading and Writing mode, the Transformer can be used in three different positions (facing left, right, or forward) to better accommodate specific circumstances, including people who are left handed, reading oversized books or newspapers, or to adapt to different types of workspaces. No matter which way the device sits on your desktop, you can press the "Rotate" button until the image displays correctly on the monitor's screen.
The Transformer offers a wide range of magnification. On a 17 inch monitor, for example, 2.4x to 30x magnification is provided. As with all electronic magnifiers, the range of magnification is dependent on two factors: the size of the display screen and the distance from the camera to the object being magnified.
The Find feature can help identify where you are currently magnified on a page or can help locate a specific part of a page or object you want to view more closely. To activate this feature, press and hold the "Find" button on the camera. The Transformer will zoom out to the widest field, and a "target" will appear in the center of the monitor's screen. You then move the reading material or object to the center of the "target" and release the "Find" button. The material you moved to the targeted area will then be magnified. This is a beneficial feature to help you find your place on a page when reading large blocks of text.
The Freeze feature allows you to take a temporary "snapshot" of what is being displayed in the Transformer window in order to have more time to view the image. You could, for example, look up a number in a phonebook, apply the Freeze feature, put the phonebook away, and review the number being "frozen" on the monitor to dial the phone.
The Rotate feature allows you to rotate an image on the screen 90 or 180 degrees. To activate this feature press the "Rotate" button on the underside of the camera arm. You can return to the original view by cycling through the views until the image is in your preferred position.
Line and Window Markers
Line and window markers are used to frame an image between two horizontal or vertical lines. These lines can be used as a reading guide for passages of text, a guide to keep your place as you move from one side of a page to the other, and to make handwriting easier. The size of the line and window markers is also adjustable.
By pressing the "Mode" button, you can toggle through various background and text color schemes to better suit your vision needs. You can choose from full color, enhanced positive, enhanced negative, and six pre-set color selections. For even further customization, these six color selections can be modified to any of 28 color schemes.
The following features are available only when using the Transformer with a PC.
Capturing an Image
The Transformer's Viewer application allows you to capture a "snapshot" of the camera image. This snap shot can then be saved to your computer for reviewing at a later time. Pressing the "F5" key will take the snap shot. When this happens, a standard "Save As" dialogue box will open, and you can save the image as a standard JPEG file. Pressing "F6" will bring up an "Open" dialogue box where you can review the previously saved image. The image will open in the Windows program you have set as your default picture viewer.
Video Window Divider
When using the Transformer with a PC, you can view the PC window and the Transformer Viewer application window in a full screen view or simultaneously on your PC screen in a split-screen view. The position of the Transformer application window can be set to the left, right, top, or bottom of the PC screen, and pressing "F8" will cycle through the various positions.
Accessing the On-Screen Set-Up Menu
The on-screen set-up menu can be accessed by pressing and holding the "Freeze" button for three seconds. The "Zoom" wheel is used to move through the menu items, and pressing the "Mode" button will activate the selected option. This menu is used to access the following options and settings: Line and Window Markers, Marker Size and Position, Color Modes, Screen Display settings, and Product Information.
The issue here is that the on-screen menu items are displayed in fonts too small to be read by many people with low vision, and the fonts cannot be magnified either by the Zoom feature or by screen magnification software. Even though the settings in this menu may not need to be accessed often, they still need to be accessible to the user with low vision. This is definitely an issue that needs resolved, either by increasing the size of the fonts in the menu options or redesigning the menu's interface.
What Would Make it Better
The Transformer could be improved in the following ways:
- (1) By increasing the font size in the User Manual to at least 18 point font and increasing the size and improving the visibility of the photos. This would better enable people with low vision to independently set up and learn about the product.
- (2) By adding the ability to adjust the brightness of the built-in LED light. I used the Transformer in a typical office setting, and the LED light did not increase the brightness of the image on the monitor's display. It would also be a bonus if the LED light were repositioned so that it could be used when using the self-viewing feature.
- (3) By improving the image quality when using the Transformer's viewing application with a PC. When using a PC, there is a bit of a delay in the display while moving text under the camera. This causes some pixilation of the text, though this is reduced when slowing the movement of text. The issue is that slowing your reading speed also reduces your productivity. I understand this delay is largely due to the PC's processing speed, and results will vary due to computer specs. This is why I recommend having a stand-alone monitor close by your main work station for more lengthy text reading.
- (4) By improving access to the on-screen menu by increasing its font size or redesigning its interface.
The Bottom Line
The Transformer from Enhanced Vision is definitely an example of the newer generation of computer compatible electronic magnifiers. The product is very lightweight and portable, provides a wide range of magnification and color viewing options, has a rotating camera for desktop, distance, and self-viewing, and has the ability to capture an image and save it to your computer. All of these are great features, especially if you are a student or professional who needs portability and flexibility.
The issue is that when used with a PC, this portability and flexibility can come at the cost of compromised viewing quality when moving text under the camera (which is the case with all computer based electronic magnifiers I have evaluated). The transformer provides excellent viewing quality when using a VGA monitor for the display. In this situation, the image travels directly from the camera to the monitor's screen. When used with a PC, the camera's image must be processed through the computer, thus there is a delay when using the PC's monitor as the display. When using a PC's display to read text, you must move the text much more slowly to reduce pixilation. Therefore, I would recommend using the Transformer with a PC for spot reading or reading smaller amounts of text. I would also recommend using the Enhanced Vision's portable x-y table with the Transformer to improve the text reading experience.
For full featured electronic magnification on the go, however, the Transformer is definitely an option to consider.
Price: $1,995 for computer compatibility only ($2,145 for computer and VGA compatibility)
Warranty: 2 year warranty
Phone: 1 (888) 811-3161
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