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Video for Everyone

Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.

The FCC approved it just a tad too late for most stores to stock up for holiday gift sales, but the QuickCam video camera for Macintosh computers should prove a winner for Connectix. It's the successful software company's first venture into the peripheral market.

QuickCam has a retail price of $149, though it sells for about $99 through dealers and some mail-order outlets. In fact, just about the only users who received their cameras in time for holiday gift-giving are those who ordered from MacConnection at the Macworld Expo in August. The backlog should be clearing up as you read this, though a new run of orders at January's Macworld Expo may set them behind again.

Suddenly, desktop video is within reach of almost any Mac user's budget. A small grey sphere about the size of a billiards ball, with its own removable triangular stand, QuickCam connects to any QuickTime-compatible Macintosh (one with 68020 processor or better) through either built-in serial port. Since no specialized cards are required, it doesn't matter whether your Mac has NuBus slots, multimedia slots, or anything else - just a free modem port or printer port. Almost any PowerBook is a perfect candidate.

The first-generation QuickCam provides sixteen shades of grey, but Connectix plans to produce a color model later in 1995 if the initial unit sells well. It's perfect for videoconferencing, learning how to make QuickTime movies, or even taking still greyscale snapshots.

Two applications come with the camera, one for creating QuickTime movies and the other for capturing still pictures. The former can combine the camera's digital video signal with sound input, using your Mac's microphone (if it has one) or the microphone built into the QuickCam itself. Connectix recommends you use the Mac's microphone given the choice; QuickCam's isn't particularly high quality, and using it limits the bandwidth available in the serial cable for video signal. Also included with the QuickCam is a picture framing utility and an After Dark-compatible screen saver module. QuickCam owners who return their registration card will receive a CD-ROM containing sample video files and additional utilities.

Speaking of video signal, Connectix has bypassed the loss of picture quality inherent in the process of converting analog video to digital signals. QuickCam generates a pure digital signal and sends it straight through to the QuickTime software running on the Mac. Camcorders and most other video cameras send out an analog NTSC video signal that then must be converted into digital information before the Mac can use it. This conversion can (especially with cheaper equipment) result in jitters, snow, or other degradation in quality. QuickCam avoids all this.

Are there any practical uses for a QuickCam so far? Absolutely. Even if you don't consider four-bit greyscale sufficient for your next cinematic masterpiece, it's plenty for videoconferencing on even low-bandwidth networks like LocalTalk or medium-bandwidth connections to the Internet. Cornell University's freeware CU-SeeMe videoconferencing application (designed specifically to use TCP/IP protocols as found on the Internet) now supports QuickCam. Since CU-SeeMe is also limited to 16 shades of grey, it's a match made in heaven.

ftp://cu-seeme.cornell.edu/pub/video/

In addition, Connectix is working on QuickCard, a utility designed to let people easily make multimedia greeting cards, complete with audio and video from the QuickCam and other embellishments provided by QuickCard.

A QuickCam certainly won't make you the next Fellini, but for about a hundred bucks, it's an easy investment to justify even if you just want to play around. For additional information about the QuickCam on the Web, check out these sites:

http://www.engin.umich.edu/~friscolr/QuickCamtm /readme.html
http://www.indstate.edu/msattler/sci-tech/comp/ hardware/quickcam.html

Information from:
Connectix
Cornell University

 

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