CCTVs/Video Magnifiers for Low Vision
Electronic video magnifiers, also known as CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) Magnifiers, are the current state-of the-art in low-vision magnification products. "Low Vision" is when one's vision cannot be improved sufficiently to see well enough to provide adequate visual functioning even with prescription eyeglasses, medicine, or surgery. There are many causes of this type of visual impairment, including macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and Retinitis pigmentosa (RP). While traditional optical magnifiers, such as magnifying glasses, are extremely useful in many instances, there are certain situations where their technology may not be quite up to the task.
Depending on the model of electronic video magnifier, they are capable of offering a variable magnification range, from 2x all the way up to 50x or even greater, with a tack-sharp, magnified image displayed on a large, high definition monitor. While video magnifiers for low vision come in many shapes and sizes, they all share this one feature: they have a camera to transmit a magnified image to a monitor or TV. Some video magnifiers for the visually impaired have a built-in monitor, others include a separate monitor as a component of the system, while some do not include a monitor and one must be purchased separately or supplied by the user. Making them even more versatile, many CCTV Magnifiers can be connected and used with a television screen, even if they have their own dedicated monitor.
Video magnifiers for the visually impaired with low vision have two major form factors and two major characteristics. They are either Desktop Video Magnifiers with a stand-mounted camera or they are Handheld Video Magnifiers. Some are designed to be portable, others to be stationary. While handheld electronic magnifiers are obviously intended to be portable, there are a number of desktop electronic magnifiers that are also portable and easily transported from home to classroom or office.
Desktop Video Magnifiers for the visually impaired are manufactured with different physical profiles. Some are all-in-one units that house the camera, monitor, and a reading platform bundled together. Others have the camera mounted on a stand which is attached to a reading platform with or without a monitor included. Some of these models include an XY viewing platform or table, which is movable both horizontally and vertically to assist the reading of longer works by enabling controlled side-to-side and top-to-bottom movement. Many allow the camera's position to be easily switched from near magnification (for books, magazines, documents, photographs, etc.) to distance magnification (for blackboard, whiteboard, or PowerPoint presentations).
Handheld Video Magnifiers for low vision have a camera and LCD display screen all in one compact, portable unit. Depending on the size of their screen, some are even pocket sized. Screens generally vary in size from 3.5-inch to 5-inch and larger. While they all have a relatively small, integrated, built-in display, a number of them are able to connect to a large-screen TV.
Handheld portable digital magnifiers generally stand on, or rest against, the reading material. A built-in LED lamp provides all the illumination needed to provide a bright, clear, crisp image on screen. Magnification is typically from approximately 2x to 17x and above. Some models have a continuously variable zoom, while others give a choice of two discrete magnifications, one low power, the other high power. Features vary widely depending on price, which ranges from a few hundred dollars to around a thousand dollars. Some high-end models have voice menus and offer text-to-speech OCR (Optical Character Recognition) with the ability to read aloud. Another specification to be aware of is the camera's megapixel count, which typically range from 2-megapixels to over 10-megapixels. Assuming all other factors are equal (such as optical quality and sensor size), the more megapixels that a camera has usually yields sharper images.
Portable, handheld electronic magnifiers excel at helping with many daily activities at home, such as: reading prescription bottle labels; sorting through mail; writing checks; jotting down notes; reading cooking recipes; and reading frozen food preparation instructions. When out on the town, they provide invaluable assistance when ordering from a restaurant menu or when shopping, to read price tags. While you could read a novel with one, you might find a bible verse or two, a poem, a short story, or magazine article better suited as reading material, considering the screen size.
The Desktop Video Magnifiers are the best choice whenever a much larger field of view is preferred, or when the highest magnification is required. This would include activities such as: viewing a 5x7 or 8x10 photograph; reading an entire book; studying a textbook; browsing through a newspaper or magazine; writing letters by hand; and doing crossword puzzles.
There is an overlap in many of their features, and in some cases, either the handheld or the desktop video magnifier can often substitute for the other. However, many people find that, depending on their personal lifestyle, that they may have a need for both. And whether you call them CCTV magnifiers, digital magnifiers, video magnifiers, or electronic magnifiers, amazing devices such as these, by any of their names would be just as welcome to anyone with low vision.