TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Gift Guide for Geeks 2003: See

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Review

Gift Guide for Geeks 2003: See

by John C. Welch and Michael R. Harvey

If seeing is believing, then believe these are great gifts

Introduction

Well, as the gift giving season rapidly approaches, we hit the decision that faces everyone who knows a Mac user...what the heck to buy them that won't break the bank? Well, thanks to the efforts of at least two companies, there's an easy gift for any Mac user with a reasonably fast machine: a FireWire web camera.

The iSight

As anyone who hasn't been living under a rock knows, the Apple iSight, and its attendant iChat AV software, has suddenly made video conferencing fun for people who aren't geeks. Now, Apple didn't invent videoconferencing by a long shot, but thanks to a willingness to go the extra mile, there is now a package that makes it far less painful. However, this is not an iChat AV review, even though it's an obvious topic when you're talking about the iSight. We're going to attempt to talk more about the cool things you can do with the hardware.

As part of that, we should probably cover the very few things you can't do with it, namely use it with iMovie, Final Cut Express, or Final Cut Pro. The iSight doesn't use the correct signal type for those applications to talk to it. However, that doesn't mean you can't make use of an iSight if you have those programs, it just means you have to use an intermediary application, some of which we'll cover later.

Basics


The iSight resembles...well, an electric razor with a lens instead of a handle. It's a cylinder, about three inches long, and around an inch or so in diameter. It uses FireWire for it's connection, and comes with a set of strain relief/mounting clips that wrap around the included FireWire cable to help secure the iSight to the three mounts that are included with the camera, and brings us to our first of two complaints about the hardware.

First of all, the clips that secure the iSight to the mounts are pretty cheesy. While we understand that Apple had to make them easy to disassemble, in the months we've had the iSight, we've almost lost the two pieces many times. They slide together around the cable, but until they are attached to the iSight, they come apart far too easily, and are too easily lost in the depths of a laptop bag. They really seem to have been designed for someone who will mount the iSight once, and never move it from that mount. This makes sense when you consider the mounting hardware.

The iSight comes with three mounts, one for laptops, one for Cinema Displays/iMacs/LCD displays, and one for eMacs/CRTs. Now, the laptop mount is pretty sweet. It clips onto the top of the screen, so it's at the all important eye level, and has a knurled thumbscrew to securely clamp the mount, and the iSight to the screen. The design is well thought out, and doesn't intrude into the actual display area of the laptop screen, even on a TiBook. However, the other two mounts are not nearly as well thought out. They attach via two - sided tape, so once you attach the mount, that's where it stays. Let's review this: you buy a $149.00 camera for someone who owns a multi-thousand dollar Cinema Display, and you want them to glue the camera to the display. Um, no. Even without the aesthetic concerns, adhesive mounts are a right proper pain if you ever have to readjust them, and we have yet to see an easy source for just mounts. Come on Apple, you win awards around the world for industrial design, and your solution for using an iSight with anything but a laptop is three bucks of Lucite and carpet tape? It definitely puts a damper on the user experience.

Using the iSight

That aside, however, the iSight itself is a handy bit of work. It's unobtrusive, and has a very obvious, (and very welcome) way to tell you the lens cover is closed, and the camera shut off. When you rotate the end of the case counterclockwise, a white lens cover snaps into place. Perfect for those times when you don't want the world to see you in the flesh. The auto focus works well enough for it's intended use. You aren't going to film a football game with it, but why would you want to? While iChat AV may not allow you to adjust gamma, and other values for the camera, there is other software, such as QuickTime Broadcaster that can.

The Fire-i

The Fire-i web camera, from Unibrain (www.unibrain.com) is almost the anti - iSight. It is highly compact, $50 less than the iSight, and needs only one extra mounting part, which you'll likely leave attached to the camera once installed. The Fire-i, with the clip attached, is a cube about 1.5 inches to a side. It has two FireWire ports on it, making it very valuable for mobile users. You can plug the cam in, and still have another FireWire device attached through it to your PowerBooks single FireWire port. The Fire-i can accept power from either the bus or you can plug your own power directly in to the cam. It has a manual focus control, and no shutter.

This camera was designed mainly for use with laptop computers. Its clip will hold the cam to most any laptop screen, and even has pins inside it so that the camera won't slip too far down on the screen case, avoiding the possibility of it pressing down on the screen itself. The clip, which swivels 360 degrees, also has a great deal of tilt capability. This allows you to set it up on a desk, or monitor.

There are two areas where the Fire-i comes up a bit short. One is that it lacks a built-in microphone. In order to use voice, you have to either use the built-in mic on an iBook or PowerBook, or attach a third party microphone. This not a deal breaker by any means though, as the high picture quality, and portability more than make up for this missing feature. The second issue we ran into concerns the focus knob that surrounds the lens. This more of a warning than a complaint. The spring in the clip is pretty strong, and it takes a bit of work to open it up. Your thumb will naturally fall on top of the focus knob when you are squeezing the clip open. When we did this, we jammed the knob straight into case of the camera. Everything still worked fine, but a small clip broke and now the focus knob can slide in and out of the case along the lens. Be careful not to put any pressure on that knob.

There is a nice set of software goodies bundledwith this web cam. BTVPro (discussed below), as well a few others. WuffCam (www.wuffwuffware.com), web cam software designed to broadcast images to Rendevous capable browsers, or upload images for the web, as well as a few other features built in to a simple interface. A beta of SecuritySpy (www.securityspy.com), a video surveillance application with features such as multiple camera support, motion detection, and live video streaming over networks. And last, the ISpQ Video Chat client.


Despite not having a microphone, the Fire-i is great little camera, with superior image quality, and a nice bundle of software to use with it. And, of course, it works flawlessly with iChat AV.

Software

Once you get past iChat AV, though, there is a lot of really neat stuff you can do with one of these cameras. They work perfectly with QuickTime Broadcaster and QuickTime Streaming Server, so if you want to set up a web broadcast to more than one person, or set up a streaming web cam, then just install Broadcaster and the streaming server, and you're set. (While you normally have to buy Mac OS X Server to get QuickTime Streaming Server, just download Darwin Streaming Server if you want to use it with Mac OS X ). It takes about five minutes to set up Broadcaster and QuickTime Streaming Server, and once you do, you can talk to millions, just like Steve at a keynote. This is also quite handy if you want to set up a hidden camera system. Get some cameras, some iBooks, (while an iBook is marginal for iChat AV, for QTSS, it's fine), place the cameras, and you've got a nice little QuickTime Surveillance System that you can use from anywhere with a decent internet connection.

However, if you want to use either web cam as a low - budget FireWire DV cam, you can do that with a handy little package called BTVPro, from Ben Software, (www.bensoftware.com). BTVPro allows you to use the iSight or Fire-i as a DV Cam of sorts. It also has a really excellent motion detection system that can turn on the camera and record when the motion in the camera's field of view hits a predetermined threshold. Just the thing for making sure your roommate is staying out of your Cheetos stash. Even better, BTVPro, unlike iMovie or any video editing applications from Apple is scriptable, including the motion detection, codec selection and settings, and DV Tape device control. So with BTVPro, you can record the video from the Fire-i or iSight to a DV Tape, and because it's scriptable, you can control this from other applications. Again, while security/surveillance may not necessarily be a common use for one of these cameras, with the right software, it would be a very functional little tool for this kind of work. John has some law enforcement friends who are rather interested in using an iSight for just this purpose.

Video Conferencing

Since we have mentioned iChat AV a few times, we should talk a bit about how well the iSight and Fire-i perform as videoconferencing tools. "Quite well" would be the smarmy answer. They really do a serviceable job, and iChat AV is one of the easiest applications to use for this kind of task. The only thing we would say is that if you are going to use iChat AV a lot, we'd really recommend getting a headset / mic combination. The iSight's internal audio circuitry can get a little overworked if there's a lot of background noise when you are talking to it, never mind that the Fire-i has no audio capability at all, and requires other hardware for audio input. We have used the PlainTronics 300 USB headset with them to great effect, especially the mute button on the headset! Besides audio quality, a good headset allows you to avoid the temptation to turn an iChat AV session into a long distance phone call to Europe circa 1949: "WHAT? HOW ARE THE SQUIDS? WE DON'T HAVE ANY SQUIDS...OH, KIDS...THE KIDS ARE FINE...NO, NOT IN LIME, FINE!". Just be careful with the distance between the mic and your mouth, or you end up sounding like a reject from a Darth Vader audition. If you need to video conference with folks who don't have iChat AV, your options are a bit more limited. Yahoo works well enough for video, but we have yet to get the audio to work on that program. There are some others, like SquidCam, but again, both sides have to have the same program in most cases, so if you want to do a lot of videoconferencing, some judicious research into what the people you will be talking to are using is a good idea. As is bandwidth. While in theory you can get at least voice chat to work over a 56K dialup, it's going to be very spotty, and sound rather poor. You really need at least a decent DSL or Cable Modem connection if you are going to be using any of these web cams for more than a few seconds at a time.

Conclusion

As gifts go, you can do a lot worse than one of these web cams. The Fire-i is a good option for full time PowerBook users, as it is very small, and you already have a mic integrated into the PowerBook. The iSight is a great choice all around, even if it is rather bulkier than other cameras. They are relatively inexpensive, work well, and can be put to some fairly innovative / demented usage. And if you really want to make a MacTech columnist's week, well, John will happy to help you with that. Just use the email address at the top of the article ;-)


John C. Welch and Michael R. Harvey

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

BetterTouchTool 2.305 - Customize multi-...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom... Read more
calibre 3.8.0 - Complete e-book library...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
Carbon Copy Cloner 5.0.2 - Easy-to-use b...
Carbon Copy Cloner backups are better than ordinary backups. Suppose the unthinkable happens while you're under deadline to finish a project: your Mac is unresponsive and all you hear is an ominous,... Read more
Evernote 6.12.3 - Create searchable note...
Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime, from... Read more
Default Folder X 5.1.6 - Enhances Open a...
Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any OS X-native application. The toolbar gives you fast access to various folders and commands. You just click on... Read more
Geekbench 4.1.2 - Measure processor and...
Geekbench provides a comprehensive set of benchmarks engineered to quickly and accurately measure processor and memory performance. Designed to make benchmarks easy to run and easy to understand,... Read more
GraphicConverter 10.5 - $39.95
GraphicConverter is an all-purpose image-editing program that can import 200 different graphic-based formats, edit the image, and export it to any of 80 available file formats. The high-end editing... Read more
Dropbox 35.4.20 - Cloud backup and synch...
Dropbox is an application that creates a special Finder folder that automatically syncs online and between your computers. It allows you to both backup files and keep them up-to-date between systems... Read more
XMind 8 Update 4 - Popular mind mapping...
XMind is the most popular mind mapping tool. Millions of people use XMind to clarify thinking, manage complex information, run brainstorming and get work organized. It couldn't be easier to get... Read more
Safari Technology Preview 11.1 - The new...
Safari Technology Preview contains the most recent additions and improvements to WebKit and the latest advances in Safari web technologies. And once installed, you will receive notifications of... Read more

The best new games we played this week -...
It's pretty much been one big release after another. We were privy to a bunch of surprises this week, with a lot of games we'd been waiting for quite some time dropping unexpectedly. We hope you're free this weekend, because there is a lot for... | Read more »
Stormbound: Kingdom Wars guide - how to...
Stormbound: Kingdom Wars is an excellent new RTS turned card battler out now on iOS and Android. Lovers of strategy will get a lot of enjoyment out of Stormbound's chess-like mechanics, and it's cardbased units are perfect for anyone who loves the... | Read more »
The best AR apps and games on iOS right...
iOS 11 has officially launched, and with it comes Apple's ARKit, a helpful framework that makes it easier than ever for developers to create mobile AR experiences. To celebrate the occassion, we're featuring some of the best AR apps and games on... | Read more »
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of...
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice 1.00.00 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.00.00 (iTunes) Description: ************************************************※IMPORTANT※・Please read the “When... | Read more »
Kpressor (Utilities)
Kpressor 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Utilities Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: The ultimate ZIP compression application for iPhone and iPad. - Full integration of iOS 11 with support for multitasking.-... | Read more »
Find out how you can save £35 and win a...
Nothing raises excitement like a good competition, and we’re thrilled to announce our latest contest. We’ll be sending one lucky reader and a friend to the Summoners War World Arena Championship at Le Comedia in Paris on October 7th. It’s the... | Read more »
Another Lost Phone: Laura's Story...
Another Lost Phone: Laura's Story 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Another Lost Phone is a game about exploring the social life of a young woman whose phone you have just... | Read more »
The Witness (Games)
The Witness 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $9.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: You wake up, alone, on a strange island full of puzzles that will challenge and surprise you. You don't remember who you are, and... | Read more »
Egg, Inc. guide - how to build your gold...
Egg, Inc.'s been around for some time now, but don't you believe for one second that this quirky clicker game has gone out of style. The game keeps popping up on Reddit and other community forums thanks to the outlandish gameplay (plus, the... | Read more »
The best deals on the App Store this wee...
Good news, everyone! Your favorite day of the week has arrived at last -- it's discount roundup day! This fine Wednesday evening we're gathering up the hottest deals on the App Store. We've got action platformers, we've got puzzle games, we've got... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple Offering Up To $455 Credit Toward iPhon...
iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are now available at the Apple Store, and you can receive up to $375 credit toward a new iPhone purchase when you trade in your eligible smartphone. Photo Courtesy Apple Just... Read more
AnyTrans Offers iOS Users Three Ways For Movi...
iMobie Inc. today announceed AnyTrans v6.0.1, which now can help iOS users move all data to iPhone 8/8 Plus seamlessly. The software is available both on Mac and Windows and fully able to move all... Read more
Snag a 13-inch 2.3GHz MacBook Pro for $100 of...
B&H Photo has 2017 13″ 2.3GHz MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for $100 off MSRP, each including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only: – 13-inch 2.3GHz/128GB Space Gray MacBook... Read more
Verizon offers new iPhone 8 for $100-$300 off...
Verizon is offering the new iPhone 8 for up to $300 off MSRP with an eligible trade-in: • $300 off: iPhone 6S/6S Plus/7/7 Plus, Google Pixel XL, LG G6, Moto Z2 Force, Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 edge/S8/S8... Read more
Apple Refurbished 2017 13-inch MacBook Pros a...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2017 13″ Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and available for $200-$300 off MSRP. A standard Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is... Read more
OWC USB-C Travel Dock with 5 Ports Connectivi...
OWC have announced the new OWC USB-C Travel Dock, the latest addition to their line of connectivity solutions. The USB-C Travel Dock lets you connect its integrated USB-C cable to a Mac or PC laptop... Read more
Pelican Products, Inc. Unveils Cases For All...
Pelican Products, Inc. has announced the launch of its full line of cases including Voyager, Adventurer, Protector, Ambassador, Interceptor (for the Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus backwards compatible... Read more
$100 off new 2017 13-inch MacBook Airs
B&H Photo has 2017 13″ MacBook Airs on sale today for $100 off MSRP including free shipping. B&H charges NY & NJ sales tax only: – 13″ 1.8GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MQD32LL/A): $899, $100 off... Read more
Apple restocks Certified Refurbished 13-inch...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 13″ MacBook Airs available starting at $719 and 2016 models available starting at $809. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is... Read more
Is iPhone X Really The Future Of The Smartpho...
Should iPhone X even be called a telephone? It does of course support telephony and texting, but its main feature set is oriented to other things. It is also debatable whether it makes any rational... Read more

Jobs Board

Specialist - Retail Customer Services and Sal...
The position listed below is not with Tennessee Interviews but with Apple , Inc. Tennessee Interviews is a private organization that works in collaboration with Read more
Specialist - Retail Customer Services and Sal...
The position listed below is not with South Carolina Interviews but with Apple , Inc. South Carolina Interviews is a private organization that works in collaboration Read more
Behavior Technician with *Apple* Consulting...
The position listed below is not with Washington Interviews but with APPLE CONSULTING Washington Interviews is a private organization that works in collaboration Read more
Infection Control RN with *Apple* Rehab - A...
The position listed below is not with Georgia Interviews but with Apple Rehab Georgia Interviews is a private organization that works in collaboration with Read more
Specialist - Retail Customer Services and Sal...
The position listed below is not with South Carolina Interviews but with Apple , Inc. South Carolina Interviews is a private organization that works in collaboration Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.