Obsbot Tiny Review: Bringing A.I. Smarts to the Webcam
“The Obsbot Tiny is a unique webcam that could have benefitted from a larger sensor.”
- Subject tracking works well
- A.I.-driven pan, tilt, and zoom
- Noise-cancelling microphones
- Innovative gimbal design
- Image quality suffers in low light
- Maximum resolution of 1080p
Webcams have become an integral part of our lives — especially during the past year and a half — allowing us to collaborate and communicate from afar. While most webcams try to differentiate in terms of video and microphone quality, Obsbot is taking a radically different approach.
Relying on the tried and proven 1080p video standard, the $199 Obsbot Tiny is a personal home webcam that infuses artificial intelligence smarts, a dual axis gimbal, and subject-tracking capabilities into a truly powerful solution that’s typically found in larger, and oftentimes more expensive, conference room products.
It promises to be a smart tool for creators, with more natural panning, tilting, and zooming capabilities that will make your videos appear dynamic.
In a space where most webcams haven’t changed much over the years, Obsbot’s take is a surprising breath of fresh air. Instead of relying on an unassuming single-piece enclosure that houses the image sensor and microphones and a stand that clips to most monitors, Obsbot instead gives the traditional design an extreme makeover. With the Obsbot Tiny, what you’re getting is a cross between a a traditional webcam and a gimbal, like DJI’s Osmo series.
At a glance, the Obsbot’s design, while refreshing, may seem a bit overkill. Monitors, after all, don’t need the stabilization mechanism of a gimbal, as they’re meant to be stationary pieces of technology, and most people aren’t conducting important video calls from a loud train or a turbulent airplane. However, in this case, the gimbal isn’t designed for stabilized video feeds, but rather for controlling the cam.
The Tiny relies on artificial intelligence to drive the motor in the two-axis gimbal, allowing the cam to pan, tilt, and zoom (PTZ). This makes it one of the most — if not the most — compact PTZ desktop webcams on the market today, and the feature here rivals much bulkier and expensive videoconferencing equipment found in office conference rooms.
In fact, this design makes the Obsbot Tiny resemble DJI’s Pocket 4K with its handle chopped off. The Tiny comes with a magnetic base, allowing it to be attached to most metal surfaces, and a magnetic mounting clamp so it can attach to laptops and monitors with ease. Creators looking to use this on a tripod can also rely the threads on the bottom of the Tiny.
Like many modern webcams, the Obsbot can record videos at FHD 1080p resolution, but the downside is that you’re limited to 30 frames per second — other fps formats aren’t supported. Digital zoom is supported, and the maximum zoom is 2x, which gives you some flexibility to pan and zoom for tighter shots if you’re willing to sacrifice some image quality in the process.
The camera has omnidirectional microphones with noise cancellation technology, which worked surprisingly well when we tested the unit at home and in a more quiet cafe during the afternoon.
The gimbal allows the cam to pan up to 150 degrees around and tilt up or down up to 45 degrees, adding the flexibility to get the perfect shot if you’re a creator looking to stream.
A single USB cable is all that’s needed to connect your desktop or laptop. Obsbot also included a DC port if your device doesn’t output enough power to the Tiny. In our testing, we didn’t need to resort to DC power on a variety of laptops from Apple, HP, and Lenovo.
Performance and image quality
It’s easy to get excited about the Obsbot Tiny’s advanced capabilities in a space that has only seen iterative improvements, but you’ll have to really evaluate how you’re conducting your video calls or streaming sessions before you invest in the Tiny. Most people, for example, will be sitting relatively stationary at their desk during video calls, so the PTZ features won’t come into play at all.
If you’re prepared to convert your living room into a Shark Tank-like stage, complete with easels, a white board, and posters, then the Tiny will make sense. In this sense, the Tiny will make your home presentation look more like an Apple product announcement keynote, tracking you and your movement across your home “stage” to deliver a more dynamic video.
For its tiny size, the Obsbot Tiny works really well — the noise canceling omnidirectional microphone’s performance was solid. The party I was videoconferencing with noted that despite the background noise in a coffee shop, my voice was clean and clear, and distractions were minimized.
Video quality, for the most part, was proficient. At 1080p FHD, it was definitely crisper and less grainy than the 720p HD camera on my 2016-era MacBook Pro. In general, I found image quality to be about on par with what’s available on Windows laptops that have a 1080p webcam. That’s not exactly a huge compliment, as laptop webcams are notorious for poor quality.
Compared to a 4K webcam, like Dell’s UltraSharp webcam or Logitech’s highly rated Brio, the Obsbot Tiny’s video quality is definitely not as sharp. If you’re using the camera more for video recording — rather than streaming or videoconferencing — this shouldn’t be a big issue, as most calling services cap the upload resolution to 1080p or less.
The biggest drawback with such an advanced webcam like the Obsbot Tiny is that the image sensor is small. This means that the camera doesn’t capture as much light as a larger camera, like a DSLR or mirrorless camera. In this case, this means that image quality quickly degrades in lower-light situations, and you’ll notice more graininess in your videos if you’re doing video calls in darker rooms. In brightly lit environments with adequate ambient lighting, this isn’t a concern, so office calls will be fine, but gamers and streamers who play in darker rooms may want to look elsewhere for a streaming solution.
Due to the lack of HDR video support, if you’re sitting in front of a bright window, you’ll notice some blown-out highlights and darker areas in the frame will lose a bit of detail In general, white balance also suffers in challenging conditions, and you’ll find skin tones to be a little off when the camera is focused on your face.
A lot of the camera controls and settings can be manually tuned using software that can be installed on your PC. However, if you’d rather not man the camera yourself, you can rely on artificial intelligence to get the job done.
Like more advanced webcams, the Tiny can auto-track and auto-frame your subject, panning and tilting the camera to create a smooth video feed without choppy transitions. The feature works really well, though it may take a few seconds for the Obsbot Tiny to lock in and locate the subject. If you’re not jogging from one end of the room to the other– think small, steady pacing on stage — then the camera will be able to track without issue. The camera did struggle a bit with faster-moving subjects, like a baby running across the room.
Another A.I.-controlled element is gesture control. Rather than navigate the software or fiddle with the hardware, you can simply raise your hand, palm-side out with your fingers together, next to your face, and the camera will lock in on the target. The LED light strip on the base of the Obsbot Tiny will flash and indicate that it has locked on to you.
Once the camera identifies whom to track, it will use A.I. to pan and swivel the camera to wherever you are in the room by using the motors in the gimbal. In use, the motor isn’t loud at all, so that was a nice feature that minimized distracting background noise.
If you need to zoom, you can hold your hand up next to your face and use your pointer finger and thumb to form an “L” shape. This will trigger the camera to zoom in 2x for a tighter crop around your face.
If you’re self recording a sales pitch or presentation, having a camera that can automatically pan, tilt, and zoom allows you to create a more compelling video. The best part is you don’t even have to have a cameraperson to do the work.
And though there isn’t a dedicated privacy shutter on this camera, you can put the camera to sleep when you’re done. With this mode, the Obsbot Tiny aims the lens downward to give you peace of mind that it isn’t recording when it shouldn’t be. The LED indicator strip will also indicate if the camera is in record mode.
The Obsbot Tiny delivers plenty of advanced A.I.-powered features in a compelling hardware package. Obsbot’s Tiny webcam brings premium PTZ features more commonly found on larger conference room video solutions to an affordable package for home use. It’s really only a good option for someone who needs that functionality, though, as the image quality isn’t the best.
Are there any alternatives?
There are plenty of capable 1080p and 4K webcams. Inexpensive webcams start at well under $100, but generally, you get what you pay for. At $199, the Obsbot Tiny competes against more premium webcams, like Logitech’s Brio.
The Brio costs the same as the Tiny, but sacrifices the Obsbot’s more advanced A.I. capabilities in favor of more advanced image quality. This means you’ll get better 4K resolution on the Brio — compared to 1080p — and HDR support.
How long will it last?
The Obsbot Tiny has a standard one-year limited warranty, but webcams are designed to last for many years of use. Unlike smartphones, a webcam isn’t a peripheral that’s designed for annual or biennial upgrades, and the Obsbot can potentially last five years or even longer. Unless the hardware breaks — given the gimbal mechanism, the Obsbot Tiny may be more prone to failure than other competing webcams due to the number of moving parts — the device should last you for many years to come.
Should you buy it?
Yes, though it really depends on the features you need out of a webcam. If you’re just using the Tiny for general video chats, then its advanced features may be overkill and you’re better off getting something with better image quality. But if you’re recording a sales pitch or a presentation, having an A.I.-powered cameraman makes it a unique tool.