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What to Know About Video Magnifiers for Low Vision

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on June 30, 2022

Video magnifiers are one of many pieces of assistive technologies for blind or low-vision individuals. They're specifically a type of technology that can help people with low vision perform tasks like reading and writing. In general, these devices use a camera to magnify their subject and project it onto a screen.  

There’s a wide range of devices that function as video magnifiers. The one that’s right for you depends on your particular needs. 

What Is a Video Magnifier for Low Vision?

Traditional video magnifiers are also known as closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs). CCTV for visually impaired people typically uses a mounted or handheld camera. The camera is able to enlarge the image to a certain degree and then project it in this larger form. The image can be projected to a video or computer monitor or television screen. 

Modern video magnifiers aren’t at all limited in terms of shape, size, or technology. They can work with desktop computers and tablets or as stand-alone models. 

Who Needs a Video Magnifier?

Video magnifiers can be helpful in a number of different situations. Students with low vision can benefit from using them from kindergarten through college. They can be used to read books, fill out worksheets, or view the classroom blackboard. 

They’re also helpful outside of the classroom. You can continue to use them to help you read for pleasure and sign important documentation. Some models have cameras that can face multiple directions. You can use these to magnify your own features to do your makeup or other personal care activities

Portable camera-based systems can help you navigate everything around you. They can be used to read things like food and product labels. In general, if you have low vision and are looking for a way to magnify your world, then a video magnifier could be the right choice.  

Why Are Electronic Magnifiers Better Than Traditional Magnifiers?

Electronic magnifiers are much more adaptable than traditional optical magnifiers, like magnifying lenses. Benefits to electronic video magnifiers include: 

  • Versatile settings — you can change aspects like the brightness, contrast, and color to suit your preferences
  • The ability to modify the level of magnification
  • Lines and markers that can help you focus on the right text
  • The incorporation of additional technology — like programs that can read text aloud 

What Are the Types of Video Magnifiers?

There are three rough categories of video magnifiers. They’re grouped based on the way that they’re used. These categories include video magnifiers for: 

  • Up-close work. Some magnifiers are only good at presenting nearby objects. These are ideal if you only want to use your magnifier to read books or view papers. The most traditional version is a magnifier connected to a desktop with a magnifying screen. 
  • Long-distance or self-viewing work. These systems have cameras that can be moved and modified to work with things like the blackboard in a classroom. They also enable you to look at yourself with the magnifier.
  • Optical character recognition (OCR). These magnifiers have built-in technology that’s able to scan and read aloud the text that it’s magnifying. These can vary widely in quality. 

Many video magnifiers  including nearly all of the ones meant exclusively for up-close work  also come with a tool called an XY tray. This is something that can be used with text to help keep track of your location while you read. You can buy one of these from a video magnifier manufacturer if your model doesn’t include one. 

What Is the Best Video Magnifier for Visually Impaired Individuals?

On their website, the American Foundation for the Blind includes detailed specifications for over 100 models of video magnifiers. This is a lot to choose from. The decision can be overwhelming for first-time purchasers, especially for parents who are trying to find the best model for their child’s education

When buying a video magnifier, you ideally want it to last for a long time. This means that you should consider both your present and future needs before deciding on the right magnifier for you. 

For example, desktop magnifiers may work just fine when your child is in a single classroom all through elementary school, but this model will become much more problematic when your child begins going to six or more classrooms throughout the day in middle and high school

Details you should consider when selecting a video magnifier include: 

  • Do you need to magnify from a fixed or changing location? 
  • Do you need to see up close, far away, or both?
  • Do you want the magnifier to include optical character recognition features?
  • Do you already have a tablet or computer that you want to use with your magnifier?
  • How much magnification do you want? 
  • Do you want any special zoom features?
  • Should the magnifier be full-color or monochrome? 
  • Should the magnifier have a touch screen?
  • Does your magnifier need a wifi connection?
  • How much visual lag can you handle in a magnifier? 
  • How complex can the buttons and controls be? 
  • Do you want tablet-based systems to have additional tablet functions? 
  • Does the magnifier use HDMI ports?  

In general, you’ll need to decide if you want a fixed or moveable camera and what size device you want. Try to get a very clear picture of your needs and all of the potential uses for this device before making your final decision. 

How Much Do Video Magnifiers Cost?

Most video magnifiers are a substantial investment. You’ll likely only want to get one at a time, one that’s the most optimized for your needs. 

The cost can vary greatly depending on the make and model. Models that have cameras mounted to a fixed stand tend to be the most expensive. These can range in price anywhere from $1,800 to $4,000. Plug-in models cost less but are still likely to be your child’s most expensive school supply. These range in cost from $400 to $1,000 dollars. 

How Should You Buy Your Video Magnifier?

Your best bet for finding the right video magnifier for you or your child is to shop around. 

It’s very helpful — and sometimes necessary — to interact with a video magnifier in person before you’ll know if it’s right for you. It’s hard to judge things like lag time and the ease of working the buttons just by reading about a device. 

If you’re looking for your child, then you should try to let them use the magnifier before you buy it. They could notice design aspects that escaped your notice. 

To get in-person access to the most products you can, try:

  • Contacting specialists and centers — they could have access to a number of products or be able to refer you to the right vendor
  • Going to conferences that exhibit the technology
  • Befriending a vendor who distributes a wide range of models 

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

American Foundation for the Blind: “CCTVs/Video Magnifiers.”

Perkins School for the Blind: “Choosing the Appropriate Video Magnifier.” 

Vision Australia: “Video Magnifiers.” 

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