Recently I was fortunate to win a Mars HD video magnifier in an online contest. This product is made by Zoomax Technology Co., Limited, which designs and manufactures high-quality handheld and desktop magnifiers for people living with visual impairment. The recently-developed Mars HD viewer fills a niche in-between the large desktop magnifiers and the small handheld ones, and it seems intended specifically for on-the-go, low-vision individuals engaged in school studies or office work.
Although I am now a low-vision, self-employed artist, and would use the magnifier mainly at home, I have been a university student and worked at various jobs in the arts and cultural field. So I have a good idea about the kinds of work environments the Mars HD magnifier could be effectively used in outside the house. In short, I considered how this new device could be useful to the visually impaired in school and work situations.
The first immediately observed advantage is its portability. Out of the box, I found the Mars HD viewer surprisingly compact, light-weight (0.88 kg), and simple to set up. The device was in position to use with two easy motions: unfolding the curved stand that holds the camera head, and pulling out two legs from the base to stabilize the unit. All of the relevant cables (USB and HDMI) were provided to connect it to any screen – it was no trouble to hook it up to a 19-inch monitor, a flat-screen TV, and to my desktop computer. All told, the magnifier is light, small and easy to transport (a convenient carrying bag is also provided), and it`s simple to set up.
As for powering the Mars HD viewer, another important consideration, it can be run on a direct power cord, or a rechargeable lithium battery for about four hours. This battery feature makes it convenient to move the viewer around on a table, and allows it to be used with a laptop in a classroom, library or work environment without having to be next to a plug-in wall outlet. Battery-powered handheld viewers offer this flexibility, but the self-supporting Mars HD viewer leaves the hands free for work.
The second major advantage of the viewer, I feel, is that it has all the features of a top-line magnifier. The control buttons are easy to find and operate by touch, like the power and LED light buttons on the stand. A wide variety of standard features familiar to video desktop viewers can be manipulated by a dial and a button located on the base. These include the magnification control (2X to 80x), and simple to navigate on-screen menus to choose adjustments to brightness intensity, various figure / ground color combinations, and lines and masking windows to aid with document reading. There are also a few features I have not seen before: a Freeze Focus function, useful when putting a pen to paper under the viewer, and a Freeze Image function that holds an image on the screen. This latter capability would be particularly useful with the Distance viewing mode described below.
The device has three viewing modes. In the Reading Mode, the unit’s closed-circuit, auto-focus camera faces straight down at the reading material on the desk. The stand can also rotate 180 degrees to either side of the base. Moreover, the camera head can be rotated 180 degrees horizontally and 330 degrees vertically on the stand to face towards or away from the user: Facing the user, Mirror Mode, provides a self-image on the screen. Pointing away from the user is Distance viewing Mode, which makes it possible to view objects across a room, such as a blackboard, video screen or power-point presentation. In this regard, the previously mentioned Freeze Image function could be used to hold images for closer inspection, and there is the capability to save the image as a file when the magnifier is used with a computer.
To my mind, the full potential of the Mars HD magnifier is reached when it interfaces with a computer. After the Zoomviewer program is downloaded from a USB memory stick, the magnifier can be used on a laptop with all of the controls available with the touch of the keyboard. This includes additional functions like zoom in and out in Distance mode, and split screen, which allows one to use the viewer and work on a file or use the internet at the same time. This would be a very practical asset during work / study activities.
In conclusion, I found the Mars HD magnifying viewer to be versatile and flexible, combining many of the best features of desktop and handheld viewers. It has plenty of viewing options, and importantly, the images from the high-quality HD video camera are sharp and clear, and the colour is excellent. In brief, it is a technologically sophisticated and remarkably useful tool for a working person with low vision. Personally, apart from utilizing it mainly for reading, I am sure I will find many uses for the viewer as I continue to create artwork. And although it was not available when I was at university or otherwise employed, I would have appreciated the use of the Mars HD back then.