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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Video Magnifiers: Part 2 - Head Mounted Displays and Portable Models Video

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Narrator: Video magnifiers allow individuals with low vision to place text, graphics, or even objects under a video camera...and then have the selected image enlarged and displayed on an electronic viewing screen such as a computer monitor or standard television.

There are five basic types of video magnifiers: desktop models, flex-arm camera models, head-mounted display models, hand-held camera to TV models, and a variety of portable and pocket models. In this segment we'll look at the head-mounted display models, the hand-held camera to TV models, and the portable and pocket models.

Most video magnifiers display their enlarged images on a monitor or TV, but another option is to view the image on a display mounted into a unit worn on the user's head, like a pair of glasses or goggles. This type of system with a head mounted display allows users to view images a few inches away from their eyes. A head mounted display will connect to different types of cameras, such as the flex-arm camera, a hand-held camera, or a camera mounted into the actual goggles that are housing the display. With this type of magnifier, the image displayed on the monitor can be enlarged until the user finds a comfortable size for viewing. It also provides a full color mode, as well as high-contrast positive and negative mode. This unit requires the user to move the camera over the image to be viewed.

At first, some users may experience difficulty with the physical movements required to operate the movable camera but, with practice, they soon learn to manage this useful tool. This head-mounted display system has the camera built into the goggles that also hold the display. This type of system is particularly useful for viewing images that are far away such as museum exhibits, live performances, speaker presentations, or writing on a chalk board in school.

If the user wishes to view images that are close a built-in lens can be slid across the front of the goggles for reading. By moving their head from side to side, they can read text placed immediately in front of the head mounted camera. Like the other units shown in this segment, this system also has adjustments for enlargement, selecting color, and switching to high-contrast, positive and negative black and white image.

Portable video magnifiers are usually provided with a convenient carrying case, and operate off rechargeable batteries. The self-contained display is connected to a hand-held camera that can be placed over the text or images that the user wishes to view. This portable unit also offers users the option of viewing in high-contrast, positive and negative black and white images, or a false color mode. Many users find it easier to read text in a certain color combination such as yellow text on a black background and they can choose from a variety of text and background colors.

Due to the expense of full video magnifiers, which cost between $2,000 and $3,500, some users prefer less expensive systems that connect directly to a standard television. With these systems, users move a hand-held camera over the text or image they wish to have enlarged. Compared to their bigger cousins, these systems offer fewer features for adjusting magnification size and manipulating displayed images, but they do balance portability and price. Users can easily pack up the camera and take it to any location where a television is available, connect the camera to the TV and begin to read.

One of the more recent developments in this field is the introduction of small, lightweight, electronic pocket magnifiers. They are generally small enough to fit in a coat pocket or purse. These devices are hand-held and provide a smaller range of magnification for text and images placed under the lens. A rechargeable battery provides the power for both the magnification and the additional light needed for enlargement. As with other devices, many users will prefer dark text on a light background, or light text on a dark background, and these portable devices also offer a feature that provides high-contrast, positive and negative, black and white images.

The flexibility of portable and pocket systems allows them to be used in many different locations. When reading longer passages, some users may find it uncomfortable to accurately manipulate the camera over the text or image to be enlarged. However, this difficulty is outweighed by the ease with which you can take this device to any location and read or view items that you would not otherwise be able to see. The cost of these devices varies depending on which features users require with each model, but these are the basic prices:

  • The hand-held camera to TV model starts at around $300 and goes up to about $1,000.
  • Head-mounted models range between $2,500 and $3,500.
  • The price range for portable models is $1,000 to $3,000...and for pocket models $700 to $2,000.

At the time of this filming the most recent development in video magnification systems is a unit that uses a digital camera to take a picture of the text or other material placed under the camera. The image is then enlarged and displayed on the unit's flat panel LCD monitor. The user has the standard options for size, color, and positive-negative image viewing as with earlier models. The added advantage of this newer technology is that the user does not have to manipulate the viewing material or the X/Y table. The user can choose to view the digital image in either a ticker tape-like mode with one line of text scrolling across the screen, or in a prompter mode where lines of text scroll up the screen.

The unit in housed in a briefcase-like housing measuring approximately 18 inches by 11 inches by 5 inches with an integrated carrying handle. The unit easily unfolds and sets up for reading. The portability of this unit and the ease of reading help justify its $4,995 price tag.

As this technology further develops we can expect to see units that offer the full features of a desktop model in a truly portable package.

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