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Is This Owl the Fix for Crap Video Conferencing?

And it’s pretty cute, admittedly.

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Owl Labs, founded by two engineers from iRobot (the company that made the Roomba) and backed by the co-creator of Android, has announced its maiden product: the Meeting Owl ($799). It’s an 11-inch-tall, 2.6-pound, fabric-covered speaker that’s designed to be the ultimate tool for video conferences. The 360-degree speaker also has a 360-degree camera lens that captures 720p HD video, eight built-in microphones for lucid audio and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor. The Owl’s “eyes” are really LEDs that light up to indicate a conference call is in progress. And yes, it looks cute.

The Meeting Owl is designed to sit in the center of meeting tables and capture audio from within a 12-foot diameter, which normally fits between four and eight people. It’s USB powered and works with a variety of video conference platforms, such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype for Business.

The Meeting Owl is easy to set up and comes packed with some cool tricks. During a meeting, the Meeting Owl will show a panoramic view of the room and a closeup of whoever’s talking. If more than more person is talking, a split screen will appear showing each of them. The whole idea is that people viewing the conference call feel more a part of the meeting and less like a flies on the wall.

It may sound expensive for something that’s essentially an upgrade — an admittedly big one — from the laptop camera you’re using right now. If you can chalk it up as a business expense, do that. Meanwhile, if you’re just looking for an audio boost, Pioneer announced a Lightning-powered plug-and-play speaker for conference calls at just $100.

The Meeting Owl is available for preorder now. Expect shipping to start in early July.

Buy Now: $799

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