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Dell’s $199 UltraSharp 4K webcam has AI on board—but no microphone


Dell’s new UltraSharp camera takes aim at Logitech’s high-end Brio with the same $199 price along with 4K resolution and Windows Hello-compatible infrared sensor. But despite sharing a price tag and many of the same specifications, the two high-end webcams diverge noticeably on features.

Hardware

This 2008-era Apple iSight camera featured a similar
Enlarge / This 2008-era Apple iSight camera featured a similar “shotgun” chassis design to the UltraSharp—but only at 640×480 resolution, with FireWire interface.

The UltraSharp’s most obvious differentiator is its vague physical resemblance to the Apple iSight, a discontinued FireWire camera with a similar “shotgun” chassis orientation. As compelling as that resemblance is for some Apple fans, the similarity between UltraSharp and iSight pretty much ends there.

Under the hood, the UltraSharp features a Sony STARVIS 8.3 megapixel primary optical sensor, featuring automatic focus, automatic white balance and light correction, and full HDR. There’s also a Windows Hello-compatible IR sensor for biometric authentication—but, curiously, no microphone. UltraSharp users will need to supply their own mic—which might actually prove convenient for some high-end consumers with studio mics, who will therefore have one fewer useless input to deal with.

The UltraSharp interfaces with its host computer via USB-C and includes a 2-meter USB-C to USB-A cable. It can be mounted directly to a desktop or laptop monitor, or it can be attached to a small included tripod. Both monitor and tripod mounts are magnetically coupled, as is its privacy shutter/lens cap.

The field of view (FOV) on the UltraSharp is user-selectable, with options for 65°, 78°, or 90°—which, on standard landscape aspect ratios, boils down to roughly head shot, head-and-shoulders, and chest-up cropping. The UltraSharp supports up to 60 fps at 720p or 1080p resolution, with 24 fps or 30 fps available in 4K UHD.

AI on board

Dell provided this demonstration of the UltraSharp’s AI-powered automatic face tracking.

One feature the UltraSharp offers that its Logitech Brio competitor does not is AI-powered automatic pan and zoom for keeping a user’s face centered. In operation, UltraSharp’s AI pan and zoom looks much like Amazon Echo Show 8’s—a feature that sounded great but didn’t work out too well in practice.

Without hands-on, it’s difficult to tell how useful UltraSharp’s AI face tracking will really be—although it appears noticeably slower and more juddery than Echo Show 8‘s similar feature was. Echo Show 8 left plenty of room for improvement in how often and how well it actually tracked faces; hopefully, UltraSharp has made inroads in that regard.

UltraSharp itself works out of the box on Windows and Mac PCs with no drivers necessary, but if you want to unlock the AI face tracking, you’ll need to install Dell’s Peripheral Manager application. In addition to the face tracking, Peripheral Manager offers control of lighting adjustment, field of view, and other features not accessible via the generic USB webcam driver itself.

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for a $199 webcam, UltraSharp looks like a solid competitor to the better-known Logitech Brio at the same price. It also looks very sharp with its standout “shotgun” chassis design—a noticeable departure from the typical modern webcam design, which looks more like a radar panel antenna (or miniature 1990s jam box) than a camera.

Although the AI face tracking sounds great, we’re a little dubious about it being a major usability win for most users. We wouldn’t advise selecting the UltraSharp on that feature alone until plenty of third-party reviewers have taken a crack at it.

If you’re in this market but not sure which camera to buy, we think the UltraSharp’s lack of built-in mic is probably the biggest differentiator to pay attention to—it’s a deal breaker for most people wanting a simple, all-in-one videoconferencing device but an actual feature for anyone planning to use their own studio mic for ultrahigh-quality audio. If you have your own XLR mic—or prefer a headset-mounted noise-canceling mic—the UltraSharp’s lack means one fewer wrong input to accidentally select.

The UltraSharp can be purchased directly at Dell.com today for $199 with free Standard shipping. Delivery dates will differ depending on region, but right now we’re seeing estimated delivery of July 6, 7, and 8 for Express/Expedited/Standard to the southeastern USA.

Listing image by Dell



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