In our new hybrid work reality, there’s a race among tech companies to reinvent and improve video calling. Google’s futuristic Project Starline produces a 3D hologram of the person at the other end of your call. Logitech’s Project Ghost videoconferencing booth is technologically conservative by comparison — but it’s also going to be available to regular people much sooner. Project Ghost is all rooted in current tech. There’s nothing remarkable about its webcam, video quality, or audio experience. First and foremost, Logitech’s booth (designed in collaboration with Steelcase) is about the vibe. I instinctively cringe whenever I hear that word these days, but it’s really the key element here.
Both initiatives are meant to enhance video calls and make them feel less impersonal. There’s no escaping virtual meetings, so the goal is to make them more tolerable — 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 let out a sigh of relief when a PR rep confirmed to me there wouldn’t be any 3D tricks involved; I’ve only got good vision in one eye, so I’ve never been able to perceive depth very well. VR headsets typically don’t resonate with me — I’m not exactly psyched for Apple’s upcoming headset — so any fancy holographic illusions likely would’ve gone unappreciated.
My colleague Jay Peters did a thorough job explaining the Project Ghost system back in January, so read that post if you want the skinny on how it all comes together. In short, Logitech follows a teleprompter-like approach in beaming your chat buddy’s face onto a pane of glass that’s recessed in the booth directly in front of you. Behind that glass is the camera that records your side of things. There’s a light bar above the display cutout that gives your face some pleasant warmth, and your upper torso also gets enough bounce light so that you don’t look like a head floating in black space.
Crucially, the camera is positioned at eye level. So when you’re making eye contact with the person on the other side of the call, they get the sense that you’re looking right at them inside their cozy Ghost booth. Logitech is also very intentional about how large each participant appears on-screen; the goal is to create a lifelike scale that makes the conversation feel more personal than seeing someone in a tiny window on your laptop or external monitor. It’s supposed to feel like you’re sitting across from someone chatting over coffee.
You don’t really notice the camera behind the glass during a call, though my camera did a better job picking up on it. As I mentioned earlier, the video quality was nothing exceptional, but I found it perfectly acceptable for the purpose. We were on a Teams call for my demo, though Project Ghost will work with other popular videoconferencing 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 finds things like eye gaze correction and getting the right scale for chat participants to be more important than resolution.
The tech backbone of Project Ghost is Logitech’s $2,000 Rally system, which has been around for about five years. (The tablet controller is another $1,000.) The microphone and speaker are purposefully obscured inside the space to be unnoticeable. But the ambience — the stylish couch, wooden slats, greenery, and sleek finish of it all — is largely the work of Steelcase. Put everything together, and the companies are giving a ballpark estimate of between $15,000 and $20,000. That could make this an impractical solution for some small businesses, but enterprise clients probably wouldn’t bat an eye. Would I prefer Ghost over the cramped privacy booths and stuffy meeting rooms at 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 likened it to a concept car; plenty of changes could be in store for future releases. The semi-enclosed booth I tried let plenty of natural light come through, but you wouldn’t want to have sensitive conversations in there. No one wants to get a medical diagnosis or hear that they’re being laid off with others in earshot.
Right now, Project Ghost is intended for one-on-one video chats. There’s no way to share your screen or lead a PowerPoint presentation from the booth, and by design, Logitech even hides the self-view to prevent you from constantly checking it. You sit down and see a person. No camera. No mic. No small window of yourself. Fundamentally, this puts you at ease and makes the exchange more natural. But Logitech is exploring ideas like a booth that comfortably fits two or three people while preserving the desired intimacy during video calls.
If there’s one area where Project Ghost underwhelmed me, it was audio. There was nothing bad about it, per se. It just sounded very… Microsoft Teams-y. Occasionally, I heard my own voice coming through on the other side. That wasn’t a huge bother, but for this kind of money, I was hoping for warmer, richer voice reproduction. Maybe that would require a visible condenser mic somewhere or nicer speakers concealed throughout the booth.
Logitech thinks Project Ghost could help make returning to the office more palatable for some people. Having an accessible, distraction-free, and very cozy virtual meeting space would mean less futzing with your own apartment to create a perfectly chic backdrop. Fully remote professionals can probably get 90 percent of the way there for much less money than one of these booths. You can do videoconferencing from many TVs nowadays by plugging in a webcam if you desire that bigger scale — albeit without the direct eye contact.
But if employers are willing to foot the bill and put a few of these booths around the office, I could see them being quite popular. Still, that lack of screen sharing and presentations could lessen the appeal a bit; maybe a secondary screen within the booth for those specific things would work.
Logitech and Steelcase expect to begin taking orders for Project Ghost this fall. The company will closely monitor customer requests and use their feedback as the basis for deciding what other designs to offer; a glass-enclosed space was mentioned at my briefing, but I’m guessing that would bump the price substantially. Smaller versions optimized for certain purposes — telehealth, podcasting, livestreaming, etc. — are also in the cards.
I wouldn’t declare Project Ghost the “future” of videoconferencing since it’s built on so much of today’s tech. But it sure beats my work-from-home setup. There’s no turning back from the hybrid work model, so I’m eager to see how the idea evolves and what other companies can bring to the table so that our virtual meetings can feel a little more real.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge
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