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Round and Round

IF YOUR SCHOOL IS EXPERIMENTING WITH WRAP-AROUND VIRTUAL REALITY FOR CREATING home-grown apps, teaching story telling or just making a tag-along virtual field trip video, there’s nothing better than getting a 360-degree camera to catch the action. The latest – like Ricoh’s Theta and Samsung Gear 360 –  are small, light and easy to maneuver while delivering exceptional 3-D views of the world.


Ricoh_910740_theta_sc_spherical_digital_1288503With lenses in the front and back, each of Theta’s cameras grab full HD video that are stitched together to create a 360-degree spherical view of the world. Theta SC is surprisingly simple to use: aim, press the shutter button and do your thing. Once shot, you can edit the video as you would for standard frame clips. Then, Theta SC allows you to share the final product with students and parents. While you can accomplish most tasks on the phone (iOS or Android), there’re also similar Mac and PC apps for doing things like live streaming the Theta’s output.

In addition to video, Theta SC can create striking still images that at 14MB are incredibly detailed. The camera lets you adjust everything from shutter speed to the sensor’s sensitivity to light to get anything from a rich sunrise sequence to a point of view shot of skateboarding. It can save its video streams locally on its 8GB storage or transfer the Theta sc bridgedata via WiFi or a USB cable, but lacks a micro-SD card slot for expanding its storage potential. On the downside, the Theta SC has a limit of about 5-minutes of recorded VR material.

As is the case with other small cameras, there’s a slew of accessories that can make Theta SC that much more flexible. There’s a polycarbonate cover that looks like a small bell jar for extreme shoots where the camera might get hit or wet as well as a stand and extension bar for more static setups. You can also get a remote shutter switch that lets you stay out of the frame. The SC is available in five pastel colors and costs $300.


Gear 360 bLike the original Gear 360 camera, the latest version starts with a white golfball-like device with a camera lens at each end. Happily, the new Gear 360 has a sculpted handle making it easier to hold and harder to drop. In fact, it looks a lot like a car’s gear shift knob.

At 4.6-ounces, it’s heavier than the 3-ounce Theta SC, but smaller and easier to hold. The pair of cameras are capable of capturing spherical video streams of up to 4,096 by 2,048 resolution or wrap-around still shots of 5,472 by 2,736 resolution for startling 15MB images. If you want a conventional single lens image, it can easily shoot 3-megapixel photos.

Screenshot_20170405-072649On the bottom, the Gear 360 has a threaded mount so it can be screwed into a tripod or hardware to attach it to a bike or helmet for everything from a physics lesson to a VR look at graduation day from the podium’s perspective. Inside, the Gear 360 has a 1,160 milliamp-hour battery that can power the camera for more than two hours and store its data on a micro-SD card; it can work with cards of up to 256GB.

The Gear 360 is just as simple to use, with a power button as well as ones for starting the recording and making selections. All you do is turn it on, wait a moment and when everybody’s ready, press the record button. It makes an annoying beep when it starts and stops, but unlike the Theta SC, the Gear 360 has a small monochrome screen that shows its status, how much storage space is left, its battery status and the recording mode.

Like the Theta SC, the Gear 360 has apps for Android (Version 5.0 or newer) and PCs, but no editing software is available for Mac computers. In addition to editing stored VR videos, the software can stream the camera’s output live for events like basketball games. On the other hand, streaming video is limited to 2K video quality. The Gear 360 is only available in white and comes with a soft bag, USB cable and ring base; no word on pricing.

Seeing’s Believing

MC-viewer-screenshot-close-upSwivl has started a video revolution in the classroom with its follow-me camera, but the company takes this technology to new heights with the ability to control and integrate the feed from up to five cams. Swivl Pro+ can watch individual students or small groups as they do their work and zoom in on what they’re doing. It uses Swivel’s snap-on $49 Expand wide-angle lens cover that more than doubles a tablet’s field of view, while the Pro+’s interface shows one camera front and center as well as four on smaller screens below.


Ready for My Close-Up

BRIO high-resIt may look like other Web Cams, but Logitech’s $200 Brio can record and send 4K resolution images. Capable of 4,096 by 2,160 resolution, it can get every detail of a face while its 5X optical zoom lens gets the close-up. With an infrared sensor, it can be used with Windows Hello facial recognition and it works with everything from Skype for Business to Zoom and Vidyo videoconference services; be careful, many of these VC services don’t yet support 4K resolution and to get full resolution you need to use the newer USB 3 port.

Pictures and Videos that Never disappear

DroboIf you want iPad and iPhone photos and videos to be available forever but are finding that the tablets and phones can’t hold enough on their own, Drobo has a good idea. The company’s DropPix app can safely and securely save them to your Drobo 5N or B810N networked storage system. As soon as a photo or video clip is shot it is backed up and ready to be recalled, edited or deleted. The system can be set to only work over WiFi.

See and Hear

MaxresdefaultSecurity cameras are a must in schools today to prevent vandalism, theft and occasionally record discipline problems. Netgear’s $220 Arlo Wire-Free and $180 Arlo Q Web cams are state of the art with the ability to capture HD video and audio, while storing it online for instant playback. There’s also a $250 Q Plus model that includes a wired Ethernet adapter that can be powered by the Cat-6 data cable.

The Arlo Q cam has an ultra-wide 130-degree field of view while the Wire-Free cam takes in 110-degrees. Either way, it’s a lot of real estate and both cameras render colors surprisingly accurately and work well in the dark. Ultimately, they work better if you put a little distance between the cameras and the intended subject because any items that are too close to the lens may appear curved at the edges.

Everything is stored on Arlo’s password-protected Web site. Each camera automatically archives a rolling week of videos for remote viewing for free. For $10 a month you can extend that to a month’s worth of recordings for up to 10 cameras and for $15 a month you get to store up to 100GB of video or 60-days of clips from 15 cameras, whichever is lower. At any time, you can download any video clip you want or need to keep.

Both come with mounting hardware so the cameras can reside on a wall or a shelf and are easy to hide, but there’s nothing like the Wilife surveillance camera that’s housed in a clock radio to mask its intensions. While the Wire-Free version is waterproof and can be set up outside, the Q model needs to stay indoors. The cameras work well shooting through a window and even an insect screen.

VMC3040_White_3-4Rt_A_LowRes_highresRegardless, each of the cameras deliver sharp and rich full HD video that gets compressed using the H.264 protocol. You’ll need to set up and configure each camera either with the iOS or Android app or via Arlo’s Web portal.

Setting up the Arlo Q was a snap. All you do is plug it in, press the Sync button and then start watching the video flow. For the Arlo Wire-Free camera, it’s a little more involved. You’ll need to start by inserting the four included C123 camera batteries into the Wire-Free camera’s bottom; Netgear says they’ll last for up to six months, depending on how often the camera is activated. Then, plug the included Base station into an AC outlet and a wired network, followed by registering it on the Arlo Web site. Finally, you’ll need to press the Sync button to activate the camera.

Once everything is set up, you can watch the output of up to five cameras at once. They can be independently set up to awaken when there’s motion or sounds; the Q NS q Plus only respond to sounds. This allows the cameras to left idle at night and will snap on to record an intruder (or the janitor). A word of warning, it’s very sensitive so don’t point it at the gerbil cage.

The cameras worked just as well at picking up intruders during daylight as at night. On the downside, the nighttime footage is monochrome and lacks the definition of daytime shots.

After it’s recorded the action, Arlo sends an email and app notification with a time-stamped screen shot of the scene. You can grant viewing rights to just about anyone with an email address. Arlo’s software sends them an invite to look at the camera’s output. They’ll need to create an account as well.

IMG_0026The Wire-Free cam records up to 2-minute clips at a time, while the Q aqnd Q Plus can do up to 5-minute streams. With an extra cost plan, they can run 24/7. Unfortunately, it’s not inappropriate for sending live or recorded video to a sick child to watch at home or for an administrator to check in on a teacher’s dynamic or classroom techniques.  

Because all the clips are stored online, there’s no need for a central video recorder and you can quickly find the clips you want. It all comes together in Arlo’s Library, which shows all the recorded videos. The interface shows how long each clip is, whether there’s audio as well as the time and date it was recorded. Any can be deleted or downloaded to a PC or Macfor future use.

At about $200 per camera and the ability to incorporate a variety of cameras, the Arlo family can provide evidence of a break-in or vandalism for a fraction the cost of a dedicated security system.



Netgear Arlo Wire-Free ($180) and Arlo Q ($220)

+ HD resolution

+ Motion- and sound sensitive

+ iOS and Android apps and Web viewing

+ Includes mounting hardware

+ Week of free online playback


- Clips are short

- Videos are deleted after a week with free plan


LimelensIt’s time to face the fact that while digital cameras are a great way to capture moments, add visual elements to lessons and teach photography, they’re just another device that needs to be charged, learned how to use and repaired or replaced. They might offer sharper pictures and the ability to change many photographic parameters, but they’ve expensive, fragile and obviously haven’t kept up with the convenience and ease of using a smartphone or tablet to shoot pictures.

Limelens fills in the gap with two snap-on lenses that push the smartphone’s camera into the creative realm and give digital cameras a run for the money. At the moment, the company has a two lens kit that can turn many recent smartphones into full-fledged cameras, ready to bring out the inner Ansel Adams in all of us.

Limelens photosThe lenses work just as well for still as for video shooting and easy to attach over the lens of a wide variety of phones. Limelens’s kit includes:

  • Captain is a 190-degree fisheye lens that excels at taking in an extra-wide field of view. It’s just as good for getting a large group into a class selfie or a wide landscape scene into a photo. Its scope is comparable to panorama images and the fisheye can also be used for creative distortions close-up.
  • Thinker is a combo 10X macro lens for extreme close-ups like taking the photo of the crenulations of a tree’s bark and doubles as a 0.67X wide angle lens for a wide field of view. Think of it as a two-position zoom lens for framing the exact shot you want to get.

Limelens bEach lens slides into a plastic carrier that’s attached to the back of the phone or tablet and won’t block the phone’s flash. Either of the Limelens optics can be used with any of 40 phones or tablets, including iPads and iPhones (model 4 and newer) and just about any recent Samsung Galaxy out there. It’ll even work with a bunch of phone or tablet cases.

How good are the pictures taken with either of the Limelens optics? The company curates an Instagram page of images taken with them, some of which are quite creative and startlingly beautiful. At $99, the two lenses come with a padded case with all the attachment hardware you’ll need as well as a synthetic cleaning cloth. These lenses are just the start with more Limelens accessories on the way.





360-Degree View

360 gearGetting into the warp-around world of virtual reality isn’t easy, but Samsung’s Gear 360 camera should be a good start. Expected to come out later this year for a lot less than other VR cameras, the output of its pair of 190-degree cameras can be stitched together to create a full 360-degree degree view of anything from a chemistry demonstration to a 3-D math lesson. The ball-shaped device has a fold out tripod, connects with the phone via Bluetooth and WiFi and each camera delivers 3,840 by 1,920 resolution images and video. You can view it all with Samsung’s VR headset that works with many of the company’s recent Galaxy phones.

Freebee Friday: Swivl Goes Home

Swivl-Cloud-Live3The Swivl automated camera stand is a great way to record classroom visits and even create movies without the need for a camera-person. By adding the ability to perform face-to-face video conferences over the company’s Swivl Cloud Live service, the robot camera holder is just as effective for allowing a child who is sick at home to remotely attend class as it is for having a chat with a parent without them having to travel to the school. In addition to voice and video, the system can share PowerPoint slides. The software is still under development and is free to use in its Beta form, but when it goes commercial, you’ll need to have a Basic or Pro plan with Swivl.



Go Anywhere Cam

SnapCam-Product-IMGWhether it’s for documenting classroom work, making a personal video or just collecting clips for a project, ion’s SnapCam is an inexpensive way to capture video. Smaller and lighter than GoPro’s Hero camera, the $150 SnapCam measures just 1.5-inches on a side, is less than half an inch thick and weighs about an ounce. It can grab up to 5,000 8-megapixel stills or two hours of 720p video streams and move images and video clips via Bluetooth, WiFi or via its micro-SD card slot.

Follow-Me Cam

Swivl AloneWhether it’s for bringing a sick child into the classroom through a remote video lesson, a district-wide teacher training day or documenting good educational practices, it not only takes an extra person to operate the camera to keep the teacher front and center but the camera can be an intrusion. Swivl’s ingenious camera holder can change all that, opening a world of educational video for schools.

The cylindrical white and black Swivl base has a diameter of 5.0-inches and is 2.6-inches tall, small enough to put on the corner of a desk, on a shelf or a tripod to observe the classroom with a digital camera or tablet. Think of Swivl as a robot that can unobtrusively observe a classroom in action and you get an idea of its potential. It works with a variety of digital cameras, but really comes into its own with an Android or iPad.

Just slide the tablet into its slotted base, load the free app for each platform and the slate’s camera can start recording the goings on. Swivl comes with three inserts for different size slates and there’s optional mounting hardware for digital SLR cameras that costs $49. While there are apps for Android- and iOS-based tablets or smartphones, there’s no software for the current crop of small, inexpensive Windows tablets that are starting to trickle into schools.

Range of swivl baseRDespite its size, the included 1.2-ounce handheld Marker is the key to Swivl’s success. The motorized base uses an infrared link with the Marker to follow it around the room, always keeping it – and the teacher – on-screen. More than a pretty picture, the Marker has a microphone built-in that connects with the base via a 2.4MHz link. Keep it in a shirt pocket or wear it around your neck with the included lanyard, it takes a fraction of a second for the base to get going, reliably follows the Marker around the classroom and can outrun even the fastest teacher.

Both the base and the Marker can run on their own rechargeable batteries and the Marker can be charged in a slot for it in the back of the base. They can each be used for about four hours of recording between charges, not enough for a full school day but plenty for most uses.

It took about 5 minutes to load the needed software, link the Marker to the tablet and get Swivel set up on an iPad Mini. While there’s no manual, Swivl has a start-up guide and there are a series of FAQs and five online videos on Swivl’s site that can help. The Marker automatically followed me no matter how fast I moved, as long as I and the Marker were within about 35-feet of the base.

Swivl makes a slight whirring noise when it moves and is able to rotate 360 degrees to capture a lecturer and then the board behind her and can tilt up by as much as 10-degrees in 0.1-degree increments and down by 15-degrees. On the downside, you’ll need to manually adjust the camera’s tilt the Marker’s central button. Unfortunately, if the marker is too close to the base, the motorized base gets confused and flicks around.

Swivl MarkerThe image quality and resolution depends on the tablet’s camera, but the system can handle HD video. It can be a little awkward to use, though, because when you’re looking at a live image on the screen, it is reversed. The saved video mirrors it so you can read what’s written on a board, projected onto the classroom screen or on a piece of paper you put in front of the camera.

While it’s being used, the screen not only shows how much recording time remains, but whether the microphone is engaged, which camera is being used as well as the Bluetooth link and battery status. A large circle on the right starts and ends the recording, which glows red while it’s active.

The $400 Swivl base comes with the Marker, cables and 200 minutes of video storage space online. That’s about three hours and if you use the device as much as I have, that will fill up all-too quickly, although the videos can be saved locally if you want and Swivl has three settings for video quality. The $500 Basic plan raises the online storage potential to more than 16 hours while the $750 Pro Cloud plan brings it to 50 hours of video storage. After a year, the video storage costs $200 and $500, respectively, while the entry-level 200 minutes remains free and there are district wide discounts available.

If you get a pair of Swivl bases, a Marker can do double duty by controlling two cameras, creating a dual video feed that can cover the presenter and a board at once or shoot from two angles for a more professional-looking final product. Plus, if you want, the camera’s output can be displayed on a larger monitor via Apple TV (for an iPad) or HDMI (for an Android system). On the downside, there’s no way to remotely zoom-in or -out on an object, as would help while recording a lab or when there’s a group discussion.

Swivl settingsIt has a couple of tricks up its sleeve, as well. The Swivl can not only play-back slides from your online repository and work as a teleprompter, but it can be used for aiming the camera at the speaker in a video conference, potentially replacing expensive gear. It can also take time lapse sequences, but only with a digital camera.

Its $400 price tag is a bargain for schools that want to unobtrusively video classrooms. The company will lend you one to try for a month to see if it fits into the way your institution teaches and trains.


Swivl Hero with logo


$400 with 200 minutes of online storage

+ Camera follows user

+ Wireless microphone and lanyard

+ Free trial

+ Online storage plans available

+ Pan and tilt

+ Works with iPad, Android or digital camera

+ Remote can control two Swivls at once


- Can’t remotely zoom-in or -out

- No Windows software

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.