Zed Mini – Unboxing and a Quick Review

In The Box

My two Zed Mini cameras arrived today, after a bit of a delay (pre-order placed sometime in Oct 17, was scheduled to ship in Nov. Included in the box:

IMG_20180129_172432.jpg

  • Camera
  • Lens cap
  • Bracket for the HTC Vive
  • Paper alignment helper thingy
  • Short USB-C cable (1m)
  • Long USB-C cable (~4m, not pictured)

Software

The Getting Started page includes links to the ZED SDK and the Hello World sample app, Zed World. ZED SDK requires CUDA 9.1, which it tries to install. For some reason, that part of the installation failed. I had to download CUDA from NVidia and install it myself, which worked fine. The ZED SDK comes with a few app that help you test the camera, the first to run is Diagnostics. My computer is an Alienware R15 laptop with a GTX1070 graphics card, two USB ports and only one of them 3.0.

The diagnostics app shows me this:

Capture.PNG

I’m not sure what this means, it seems to be contradicting itself. The camera is both OK and not detected. Hmmm..

The other Zed apps are similar to the apps that come with the ZED camera (the Non-mini version), and allow you to see the depth map.

Capsdture.PNG

As you can see, the camera has problems with featureless surfaces, such as walls, and tends to “fill in” gaps between objects (in this case, my head and arm). You’ll see more of this in the video below.

Technical ProblemsCaptuhre.PNG

  • Crashes: The system is very unstable. It crashed multiple times during testing, often requiring unplugging and re-plugging the camera.
  • Cable direction: The USB-C connector is reversible, but only one orientation works (it has a little arrow on that side). I’m confused as to why, I thought USB-C was fully reversible, but it doesn’t seem to be the case here.
  • I couldn’t get the long cable to work at all. This is a huge limitation for me. The troubleshooting guide basically tells you to try another port (my laptop only has one), not to use a hub (I’m not) and to switch to the short cable if all else fails. Right. Thanks.
  • I couldn’t get ZED SDK to run on my Windows 7 desktop. It kills the OS (wouldn’t load). I had to restore previous known good configuration to revive it (yes, I made sure to unplug the camera when I booted the system, didn’t help).

 

Performance

Here is the Zed World sample app. You can move/rotate/scale the objects with the controllers’ touchpad and the trigger buttons.

 

A few things you can’t see in the video:

  • The camera view has some latency, it’s very small but when you are moving your head it’s noticeable.
  • Due to parallax, objects tend to “swim” and shift when you look around. It’s really disorienting and… well.. weird. Very very weird.
  • The camera FOV doesn’t cover the entire Vive FOV, but about 50% of it. It’s about the size of a tissue box when held at 15cm / 6″ from your face.
  • The camera IPD is a bit smaller than my eye’s IPD, which also contributes to the overall weird feeling.
  • I started feeling queasy about 10 minutes in, due to latency and the weird way objects swim around when you move your head

 

Conclusion

I have really mixed feelings about this camera, and more testing is require. I’m going to contact support about the USB problem and the long cable not working, because that’s really limiting. I’m also going to try to install Windows 10 on my desktop and test it there.

When it works, when that little planet flies through your hand, it’s incredibly satisfying. But then it often doesn’t work, it crashes, it gets the depth map wrong, etc. I hope the drivers can be fine tuned and improved, but some problems can’t be fixed (for example, the fact that the camera is located a few cm from your eyes, causing weird things to happen when you move your head).

Finger tracking (similar to the Leap Motion) is definitely out of the question. The ZED Mini fails to separate fingers from background more often than not.

I’m still excited for the possible applications, specifically, bringing your hands into the VR application. Using the ZES Mini as a poor-man’s AR might be problematic. We’ll see.

I will update this review as more info arrives and I do further testing.

Shachar “Vice” Weis is a VR/AR developer and the founder of Packet39.com

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