Common to most conferencing systems today is the video-camera. Most laptops have a built-in camera but you still need a good external for most conferencing rooms - and sometimes even need a good external camera to replace the low-quality camera your laptop is likely to have.
There is a huge number of external cameras you can select, with prices varying from double digits through mid four digits - or even more expensive. The Jabara PanaCast is definitely not in the lower-priced cluster of webcams but it's also not the most expensive piece of video-conferencing. The reason for this becomes clearer when you look at features and performance.
The Jabra PanaCast sports a very slim design, with an all-metal body. It can sit comfortably on top of a monitor as well as wall-mounted using an optional adapter. It can even be used on a table with a telescopic table stand.
But these aren't the best features. Because of its unique design with three 13 megapixel cameras, with advanced real-time stitching software, the Jabra PanaCast can show up to a 180° view of the scene in front of it. This may not be immediately apparent but the immediate consequence is that this camera can easily be used on smaller rooms while still having everyone participating in the meeting within view. Because of this you can have a smaller footprint for video-conferencing rooms, saving real-estate.
The image captured with the Jabra PanaCast covers not only a bigger area but because it is also closer to the people in the conference it captures is a more natural picture in terms of size. To get similar coverage with the entire room in the picture, a cheaper 120° ultra-wide cameras with single sensor needs to be situated farther away, resulting in an out-of-proportion image with tiny people around a huge room.
When connected to a USB 3.0 port the Jabra Panacast will produce 4K video output at 30 frames. Connecting the device to a USB 2.0 port will reduce the frame rate to 22 frames per second. The camera will also focus and zoom automatically, depending on the number of people it can identify in the room (by face). This means when you are in the room by yourself the camera will automatically zoom on you and as soon as someone else walks into the room the camera will zoom out to automatically include the new guest in the conversation. The camera software automatically crop the output picture to include the number of people included in the meeting, while constantly monitoring the whole view.
The Jabra PanaCast achieves this result without any external software install. You simply unbox the camera, use the supplied USB-C cable to connect to your computer and it's ready doing its job.
For absolute control, you can download the Jabra Direct software and use to update the camera's firmware as well as to change other settings. This includes reducing the Field of View from 180° down to 140°, 120° or even 90°, adapting its picture to the size of the room in use.
Using the Jabra Direct software you can change default zoom levels or even turn the feature completely off (meaning you will always have a full view of the room, which is not always ideal for a meeting). The software also allows you to switch HDR video on and off - keeping this setting on gives you the best picture under any light conditions really.
The camera comes with a built-in microphone, useful when you have a meeting room wired with speakers but no microphone, or when using your laptop's microphone will give you a poor result (usually a laptop microphone is set up to just listen to the person in front of it). The microphone works like any other PC input and will be automatically selected when the camera is in use. While the microphone works well for small meetings, if you wall-mounted the Jabra PanaCast you might want to consider an external speakerphone set that can be placed on the table, closer to the audience.
In case you decide to go with an external speakerphone/microphone you can use the Jabra Direct software to switch the microphone off.
I have tested the Jabra PanaCast with Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business and Skype. Documentation suggests it also works with other conferencing systems such as Zoom, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, Slack, WebEx, Join.ME and others.
The Jabra Panacast is currently (March 2020) available through retail at around NZ$ 1,600. It's not in the lower-priced category but the features and quality you get can justify you taking conference calls to the next level.