Owl Labs Meeting Owl 3 review: Unparalleled video conferencing
The Meeting Owl 3 and its clever panoramic sound and vision ensures everyone gets a piece of the meeting action
When Owl Labs launched the Meeting Owl in 2018, its innovative fish-eye lens, smart speaker tracking and active framing put the fun back into video meetings. The main drawback was its low 720p resolution, which the Pro version boosted to 1080p in 2020. The Owl 3 also has a 1080p resolution but adds a number of useful new features.
The Owl 3 impresses with its ability to present a 360-degree panoramic view across the top of the screen, dynamically splitting the main display to show the three most recent speakers and zero in on the person currently speaking. It's powered by the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 605 CPU as the Pro version but receives improvements to the Owl intelligence system that manages auto-focusing tasks and adds a micro-HDMI port for an optional expansion mic pod.
The array of eight microphones spread equally around the inside of its fabric-covered cylindrical body is used to identify who's talking, and audio is delivered by three outward-firing speakers to spread the sound through 360-degrees. The USB and power sockets are under the base while the lower plastic band has buttons for audio mute, volume control and changing the speaker focus feature from slide animation to straight cut.
Installation is simple. After plugging the Owl 3 into a Windows 10 Pro desktop PC, it loaded all drivers and defaulted to the split-screen mode. You'll need to download the Owl mobile app and connect to it over Bluetooth LE (low energy) so you can register the device, connect it to a wireless network for firmware updates and activate the meeting room analytics feature – we used the tablet version on an iPad for this.
The Owl 3 supports all the main VC platforms, but check the Owl Labs support site first as some can't handle the camera's panoramic view. It worked fine for us with Teams, Zoom and Skype, with the slick display sure to impress people the first time they see it.
During meetings, it swapped seamlessly between each speaker, adding others as they spoke while keeping the panoramic view at the top. It reacts quickly to voices, taking around two seconds to snap from one active speaker to another, with the slide animation placing up to three speakers in a split main window. Video quality is noticeably better than the original Owl model, and audio quality from the triple speakers is extremely good, too. When holding a small round table meeting, we found a volume level of 50% was plenty loud enough while remote participants said they could hear us clearly, even when we stood three metres away from the table.
We used the iPad app to remotely manage the Owl 3 over Bluetooth and passcode-protect access. It can be used to choose the central point for the 360-degree panoramic view or disable it, set the camera to lock and focus on one person, follow a presenter, and pair it with another Owl to provide attendees with a view of both feeds.
The app's dashboard lets you turn the video feed off, control the volume during meetings and use a whiteboard to present notes and diagrams to attendees that replace the split screen in their session window. Meeting analytics and status views of all your Owls are presented in the Nest cloud portal, which is linked to your registration email address.
There are many imitators, but no one else does video conferencing like the Meeting Owl 3. It's fairly expensive, but the video quality is great, speaker tracking and framing are impressively fast and the smart dynamic split-screen view ensures no meeting participant feels left out.
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