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Desktop Readers

Video Magnifiers Defined

When searching for help for those living with low vision due to Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) or any other eye condition that results in uncorrectable vision loss, those searching will encounter terms that are often unfamiliar to them.  One of the more common terms they will encounter is ‘Video Magnification’ which engenders the question, ‘What is a Video Magnifier?’  Simply put, a video magnifier is an electronic device that combines the use of a high definition camera with a high definition display for the purpose of magnifying whatever a low vision user is trying to see.  A video magnifier comes in many different forms, from devices designed to sit on a desktop, to portable devices that could be carried in a pocket!  Desktop devices typically come with a large LCD screen and built-in moveable tray that makes reading not only possible, but a pleasure for so many that have experienced vision loss due to declining vision from AMD, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, Stargardt’s disease and others.

The History of Video Magnification

The early generations of what we call today, video magnifiers, were referred to as CCTV’s and this because the manufacturer typically used a television that had the tuner circuit disabled (closed) in order to use the TV only as a display for the accompanying camera – hence the acronym, CCTV.  Early generations of these CCTV’s were often large, heavy and complex for the user to learn with many buttons and dials.

Who Uses Them

Video magnifiers were designed for people living with uncorrectable low vision due to any number of eye diseases or other reasons they have experienced vision loss.  The most prevalent user is a senior with Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) who has experienced a loss of their central vision, manifested by a blurry spot (scotoma) that blocks their ability to see the complete text they are trying to read.  To illustrate this, imagine looking at the word ‘vision.’  The blurry spot might block the ‘si’ in the middle of the word, leaving the user to see only ‘vi….on.’  While this is true for the person with AMD, other eye conditions create similar problems that are most often helped with the same features and functions found in all forms of video magnifiers.

How Do Video Magnifiers Work

The person experiencing vision loss as described above, will often benefit from any one of or a combination of the following three things that a video magnifier is designed to do.

Enlarge the Text

With the simple turn of a dial or press of a button, text is enlarged (magnified), for the user while their blurry spot is not, and relative to the size of the text, this blurry spot is effectively smaller and no longer blocking those unseen letters completely.  This explains why people with AMD can often read newspaper headlines and even sub-headlines, but the smaller print of a newspaper article is impossible to read.

Increase the Contrast

A second and equally important element of a desktop electronic magnifier is the ability to change the contrast of a user’s reading materials.  A newspaper, for example, is ordinarily a very low contrast medium using recycled paper that is no longer bright white, but more of a dingy white, almost gray white color.  Newsprint, while black, is just not black enough. It is not uncommon to hear the complaint that the newspaper is cutting costs  by not using enough ink!  Desktop video magnifiers can change this low contrast newspaper’s appearance to be one of a very sharp and clear high contrast in either positive or negative.  Positive high contrast makes the dingy gray newspaper look bright white while at the same time making that gray/black print a sharp black.  When combined with magnification, users often declare ‘I can read this!’  Negative high contrast works just the  opposite, making the newspaper itself black while the newsprint is now white.  This negative contrast is preferred by some, and just one of many contrast options typically available on any desktop video magnifier.

Movement of Text

The third element of most desktop electronic magnifiers is use of an integrated and moveable XY tray.  This tray sits directly underneath the HD camera and is able to move in all directions, allowing the user to navigate around their ‘magnified’ reading materials with ease, rather than moving their reading materials by hand underneath the camera.  Users with more diminished vision often need greater magnification which means a line of text from their reading materials does not fit on the width of their screen.  The moveable tray allows them to move their text through their visual field and this movement of the text also improves their ability to see the ‘hidden letters’ as they slide through their visual field under their control by movement of the XY tray.

Advanced Features – Text-to-Speech

Newer generations of desktop electronic magnifiers offer an option added feature of converting text-to-speech.  This powerful new feature gives users the ability to listen to, or both listen to and see their reading materials at the same time.

How Do They Help

Desktop electronic magnifiers, with all the advanced features that are standard in today’s models, allows users to live more independently by being able to read anything, mail, newspaper, magazines, recipe, etc. and even perform many other daily living activities, like crossword puzzles and more.  Electronic magnifiers are life changing for the community of low vision users.

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