Tried Logitechs Project Ghost video chat booth, and business calls on my laptop just can't compare
Virtual Reality Headsets

Tried Logitechs Project Ghost video chat booth, and business calls on my laptop just can’t compare

In our new hybrid work reality, there’s a race among tech companies to reinvent and improve video calling. Google’s futuristic Project Starline produces a 3D hologram of the person on the other end of your call. The Logitechs Project Ghost video conferencing stand is technologically conservative by comparison, but it will also be available to regular people much sooner. Project Ghost is fully rooted in current technology. There’s nothing remarkable about its webcam, video quality, or audio experience. First and foremost, the Logitechs booth (designed in conjunction with Steelcase) is about ambiance. I instinctively cringe whenever I hear that word these days, but that’s really the key thing here.

Both initiatives aim to improve video calls and make them less impersonal.

Last week, I visited the Steelcases office in New York to get a glimpse of Project Ghost. Admittedly, I let out a sigh of relief when a PR rep confirmed to me that there would be no 3D tricks involved; I only have good vision in one eye, so I’ve never been able to perceive depth well. VR headsets generally don’t resonate with me.

My colleague Jay Peters did a thorough job explaining the Project Ghost system back in January, so read that article if you want to know how it all works. In short, Logitech is taking a teleprompter-like approach by beaming your chat buddies’ faces onto a recessed glass in the cabin directly in front of you. Behind that glass is the camera that records your side of things. There’s a light bar above the screen cutout that gives your face a pleasant warmth, and your upper torso also gets enough indirect light so you don’t look like a head floating in black space. .

You don’t really notice the camera behind the glass during a call, although my camera did a better job picking it up. As I mentioned earlier, the video quality was nothing exceptional, but I found it perfectly acceptable for the purpose. We were on a Teams call for my demo, although Project Ghost will work with other popular video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. With all of them, you can only go so far with video resolution, usually with a fixed cap of 1080p and soft-looking 1080p. Logitech finds things like gaze correction and getting chat participants the right scale to be more important than resolution.

The technological backbone of Project Ghost is the $2,000 Logitechs Rally system, which has been around for about five years. (The tablet’s controller costs an extra $1,000.) The microphone and speaker are deliberately obscured inside the space to be unnoticeable. But the vibe of the sleek sofa, wooden slats, greenery, and sleek finish of it all is largely the work of Steelcase. Put it all together and companies give a rough estimate between $15,000 and $20,000. That might make it an impractical solution for some small businesses, but enterprise customers probably wouldn’t flinch. Would I prefer Ghost to the cramped privacy cubicles and stuffy meeting rooms of our office? Absolutely, but it’s not a cheap upgrade.

Furniture and interior layout can be customized beyond what you see here. The demo structure is just a prototype that Logitech and Steelcase landed on as a good first example. Steelcase compared it to a concept car; many changes might be in store for future releases. The semi-enclosed cabin I tried let in lots of natural light, but you wouldn’t want sensitive conversations in there. Nobody wants to get a medical diagnosis or hear they’re fired with others within earshot.

Currently, Project Ghost is intended for one-on-one video chats. There’s no way to share your screen or direct a PowerPoint presentation from the stand, and by design Logitech even hides auto-view to keep you from constantly checking it. You sit down and see a person. No camera. No micro. No small window of yourself. Basically, it puts you at ease and makes the exchange more natural. But Logitech East exploring ideas like a booth that comfortably seats two or three people while maintaining the privacy you want during video calls.

If there’s one area where Project Ghost disappointed me, it’s audio. There was nothing wrong with that, per se. It just sounded very… Microsoft Teams-y. Sometimes I heard my own voice coming from the other side. It wasn’t a big deal, but for that kind of money I was hoping for warmer, richer vocal reproduction. Maybe that would require a visible condenser mic somewhere or some nicer speakers tucked away throughout the cabin.

Logitech thinks Project Ghost could help make going back to the office more enjoyable for some people. Having an accessible, distraction-free, and highly comfortable virtual meeting space would mean less futzing with your own apartment to create a perfectly chic backdrop. Fully remote pros can probably get 90% of the way there for a lot less money than one of these stands. These days you can video conference from many televisions by plugging in a webcam if you desire that larger scale, but without direct eye contact.

But if employers are willing to foot the bill and put a few of these kiosks in the office, I could see them being very popular. Still, this lack of screen sharing and presentations might diminish the appeal a bit; maybe a secondary screen in the cabin for those specific things would work.

Logitech and Steelcase plan to start taking orders for Project Ghost this fall. The company will closely monitor customer requests and use their feedback as the basis for deciding what other designs to offer; a glazed space was mentioned during my briefing, but I suspect that would increase the price considerably. Smaller versions optimized for certain purposes telehealth, podcasting, live streaming, etc. are also in the cards.

I wouldn’t declare Project Ghost the future of video conferencing since it relies on so much of today’s technology. But it certainly beats my work-from-home setup. There’s no turning back from the hybrid working model, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the idea evolves and what other companies can bring to the table so that our virtual meetings can feel a little more real.

Photograph by Chris Welch/The Verge

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