In our new hybrid work reality, there is a race among technology companies to reinvent and improve video calling. Google’s futuristic Project Starline produces a 3D hologram of the person on the other end of your conversation. Logitech’s Project Ghost video conferencing booth is technologically conservative by comparison, but it will also be available to regular people much sooner. Project Ghost is all rooted in current technology. There’s nothing remarkable about the webcam, video quality, or audio experience. At the Logitech stand (designed in collaboration with Steelcase) it is first and foremost about the atmosphere. I instinctively cringe when I hear that word these days, but it really is the most important element here.
Both initiatives aim to empower video calls and make them feel less impersonal. There’s no escaping virtual meetings, so the aim is to make them more bearable – maybe even enjoyable, if you can believe it.
Last week I visited Steelcase’s New York City office to get a firsthand look at Project Ghost. Admittedly, I breathed a sigh of relief when a PR rep confirmed to me that there would be no 3D tricks involved; I only have good vision in one eye, so I’ve never been able to perceive depth very well. VR headsets don’t usually resonate with me – I’m not exactly thrilled with Apple’s upcoming headset – so any fancy holographic illusions probably wouldn’t have been appreciated.
My colleague Jay Peters thoroughly explained the Project Ghost system back in January, so read that post if you want to know how it all comes together. In short, Logitech takes a teleprompter-like approach by shining your chat buddy’s face onto a pane of glass recessed right in front of you. Behind that glass is the camera that captures your side of things. There’s a light bar above the screen cutout that gives your face some nice warmth, and your upper body also gets enough reflected light so you don’t look like a head floating in a black space.
It is crucial that the camera is placed at eye level. So if you make eye contact with the person on the other end of the conversation, they’ll feel like you’re looking straight at them their cozy Ghost booth. Logitech is also very conscious about how large each participant appears on screen; the goal is to create a lifelike scale that makes the conversation more personal than seeing someone in a small window on your laptop or external monitor. It should feel like you’re chatting across someone over coffee.
During a call, you don’t really notice the camera behind the glass, although my camera picked it up better. As I said before, the video quality wasn’t exceptional, but I found it perfectly acceptable for this purpose. We were in a Teams conversation for my demo, although Project Ghost will work with other popular video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. With all of them, you can only go so far with video resolution, usually with a hard cap of 1080p – and soft-looking 1080p at that. Logitech considers things like eye gaze correction and getting the right scale for chat participants more important than resolution.
The technical backbone of Project Ghost is Logitech’s $2,000 Rally System, which has been around for about five years. (The tablet controller costs another $1,000.) The microphone and speaker are purposefully hidden in the room to go unnoticed. But the atmosphere – the stylish sofa, wooden slats, the greenery and the sleek finish of it all – is largely Steelcase’s work. Put it all together and the companies give an approximate estimate of between $15,000 and $20,000. That might make this an impractical solution for some small businesses, but enterprise customers probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Would I prefer Ghost to the cramped privacy booths and stuffy conference rooms in our office? Absolutely, but it’s not a cheap upgrade.
The furniture and interior layout can be customized beyond what you see here. The demo structure is just a prototype that Logitech and Steelcase landed on as a good first example. Steelcase compared it to a concept car; there may be many changes in store for future releases. The semi-enclosed cubicle I tried let in plenty of natural light, but you wouldn’t want to have sensitive conversations there. No one wants to get a medical diagnosis or hear about being fired with others in earshot.
At this point, Project Ghost is for one-on-one video chats. There’s no way to share your screen or run a PowerPoint presentation from the booth, and by design, Logitech even hides the self-view to avoid constantly checking it. You sit down and see a person. No camera. No microphone. Not a little window of yourself. Essentially, this puts you at ease and makes the exchange more natural. But Logitech is exploring ideas such as a cabin that can comfortably accommodate two or three people while maintaining the desired intimacy during video calls.
If there’s one area where Project Ghost disappointed me, it was audio. There was nothing bad about it per se. It just sounded very… Microsoft Teams-esque. Occasionally I heard my own voice come through on the other side. That wasn’t a big deal, but for this kind of money I was hoping for a warmer, richer voice reproduction. Perhaps that would require a visible condenser microphone somewhere or nicer speakers hidden throughout the booth.
Logitech believes Project Ghost could help make returning to the office more enjoyable for some people. Having an accessible, distraction-free and very cozy virtual meeting space would mean less fiddling with your own apartment to create a perfectly chic backdrop. Completely remote pros can probably get 90 percent of the way there for a lot less money than one of these stands. You can video conference from many TVs these days by plugging in a webcam if you want that bigger scale – albeit without direct eye contact.
But if employers are willing to foot the bill and put a few of these cubicles around the office, I could see them become quite popular. Still, that lack of screen sharing and presentations might diminish the appeal a bit; maybe a secondary screen in the stand would work for those specific things.
Logitech and Steelcase expect to start taking orders for Project Ghost this fall. The company will closely monitor customer requests and use their feedback as a basis for deciding which other designs to offer; a glass-enclosed space was mentioned during my briefing, but I suspect that would raise the price significantly. Smaller versions optimized for particular purposes — telehealth, podcasting, live streaming, etc. — are also in the works.
I wouldn’t call Project Ghost the “future” of video conferencing since it’s built on so much of the current technology. But it sure beats my work-from-home setup. There’s no turning back from the hybrid work model so I’m curious to see how the idea evolves and what other companies can bring to the table so that our virtual meetings can have a small more real.
Photography by Chris Welch/MinRegion