How can I magnify my computer screen?
July 21, 2004 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Video magnifier help. I have pretty bad vision and am looking into buying a CCTV video magnifier. Does anyone have any experience with these -- or just know a lot about cameras, XY tables, and computers? [more inside]

I'm legally blind, with vision that's about 20/80, and I'm also a graduate student in English literature, which means I read all day, every day. I often end the day with headaches from too much eye strain, and when I read I hold my books very close to my eyes, which, if I don't do something about it, will give me a big old hump in about fifty years.

On a recent trip to Santa Monica, I visited the Center for the Partially Sighted, where they demoed for me a fair number of CCTV magnification devices. These are basically cameras mounted over XY tables with video out to a television. The ones I was most impressed with were made by a company called Clarity. These systems are expensive -- anywhere from $2,500 to $3,500 -- but I could see finding the money to pay for one. I'm convinced, though, that there has to be a better solution out there for me.

The Clarity systems are designed for people with far worse vision than mine; they feature huge magnification and are good at magnifying 3D objects. I don't need that -- I work fine in the kitchen and around town -- I just need some magnification for reading. What's great about the CCTV devices, versus other magnifying devices I've used, is that there's so little eyestrain. I always hated using magnifying lamps because they strained my eyes, but the CCTV system hooked up to a good quality computer monitor (like my Apple LCD) is something I can look at for hours. In an ideal world, I feel like I should be able to put together a system for around $1,000, by purchasing an XY table and a digital camcorder with FireWire out. If I needed to, I could buy a larger computer monitor. In that case, I'd be able to use the components for more than just screen reading -- the camcorder for making videos, the big screen for other work.

Is it possible to buy an XY table that will accept a regular digital camcorder? Will a regular camcorder suffice for reasonable magnification of black and white printed pages? Or, alternately, does anyone out there have experience with low-vision systems and have any other suggestions? I've looked around, but I've been unable to find an XY table, and I don't know if a regular digital camcorder will work for magnifying text on the screen. Any leads would be greatly appreciated!
posted by josh to Computers & Internet (3 answers total)
We have an older CCTV video magnifier at our library and I spend a lot of time encouraging patrons to use it and trying to figure out why they don't. I think what you have in mind is referred to as a "screen sharing" or "split-screen" video magnifier. Some of the information I've found by Googling indicates that you can get systems like this either with or without an XY table. Some of them will connect in a fixed way to a desk. Clarity has some more compact solutions such as the minimate which still costs a freaking fortune, sadly. If money were no object, I'd say go with the attractive Andromeda all-in-one, but these are also in the 4K range.

OVAC sells a nifty little device which is like a handheld camera that you can run over text and output to a monitor. It's much cheaper, in the $300 range. They claim to sell an XY table optionally but I didn't see it in their online store. It seems like $300 is the cost for low-end systems if you can provide your own monitor. In a bit of poking around I did not see "bring your own camera" set-ups. Here is an up to date list of video magnifying products with links, prices and contact info. Since you're in Massachusetts, you may want to check out the Refurbished Equipment Marketplace in New Hampshire which has donated assistive devices available at a fairly low cost, in case cost was the only reason you didn't want a spendier model. The Massachusetts Assistive Technology people don't seem to have their act together webwise. Sorry I don't know anything about camcorders in these situations, we're in a bit of a technology shadow in Vermont.
posted by jessamyn at 8:12 AM on July 21, 2004

If you're a grad student, your university should be assisting you in using whatever adaptive technology you need. You shouldn't necessarily have to pony up the cash yourself. There may also be government programs.

Also, I don't know what "an XY table" is.
posted by joeclark at 10:20 AM on July 21, 2004

An XY table is a small table, mounted on ball-bearings, that sits on top of your desk. It moves easily in any direction, so if you have a book on the table it's very easy to slide it back and forth under the camera lens.

jessamyn, thanks for all the helpful info! And I will be talking to my university to get some financial help for sure.
posted by josh at 12:59 PM on July 21, 2004

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