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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Video Magnifiers for Individuals with Low Vision

A video magnifier, or closed-circuit television (CCTV) system, uses a stand-mounted or handheld video camera to project a magnified image onto a video monitor, a television (TV) screen, or a computer monitor. There is considerable versatility in the types of video magnifiers available today.

Cameras with zoom lenses provide variable magnification. In most of these systems, magnification level and focus are set after choosing a comfortable and functional working distance between the camera and the material to be viewed. Some systems use an auto-focus camera. Lower cost video magnifiers often use cameras that have a fixed focus and cannot vary magnification or camera-to-target distance.

Types of Video Magnifiers

Desktop or stand-mounted video magnifiers include cameras that are mounted on a fixed stand and require the reading material to be placed under the camera and moved across and down the page. To make the process of viewing easier, a table that is movable from the top of the page to the bottom and side to side (referred to as an XY table) is used with most stand-mounted cameras. Stand-mounted cameras are particularly effective for handwriting because a hand can fit under the camera.

In contrast to stand-mounted cameras, handheld cameras are portable systems designed for bringing the camera to the material to be viewed. They can magnify almost anything within reach, including labels on packages of food and medicine, mail, and magazines. Handheld cameras are sometimes on rollers, which make them easier to move across a flat working surface. Some manufacturers of video magnifiers that use handheld cameras offer a writing stand as an accessory for writing checks and other forms under the magnifier. A recent innovation in the development of handheld video magnifiers is to include a fully functioning tablet operating system and touchscreen as part of the magnifier’s interface.

All video magnifiers offer the option of viewing black letters on a white background or white letters on a black background. Controls for contrast and brightness are also standard. Many video magnifiers also provide other special on-screen features and controls including changing the foreground and background colors of text, electronic text to speech to read with synthetic speech, underlining text, or reducing the reading area to a single line. Some systems work jointly with a computer, offering the option of sharing the computer monitor. Color video magnifiers are useful for reading materials in which color is crucial, such as maps and color photographs.

Head-mounted displays (HMD) offer portability and new ways of viewing the display. Some devices that use this configuration can automatically process images or use prescription glasses as one of their components. The ability to capture and save an image is also available on many modern video magnifiers.

Cost of Video Magnifiers

Typically, video magnifiers that use a camera mounted on a fixed stand and XY table are in the $2,000 to $4,000 price range. Lower cost video magnifiers that plug into a TV are in the $400 to $1,000 price range. Handheld video magnifiers can range from $500 to $1,500. A small subset of magnifiers that use a handheld form factor but that connect to a monitor or TV can cost as low as $99. Head-mounted magnifiers can range from $3,000 to $10,000 for those that use automatic image processing and an eyeglass prescription.

Consult a Low Vision Specialist Before Use

Eye fatigue and other physical problems can result if the user does not have sufficient vision to read for a significant period of time without tiring. It is advisable for people considering purchasing a video magnifier to have a low vision evaluation and consult with a low vision specialist who can help with determining which product is appropriate.

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