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

FileZilla 3.21.0 - Fast and reliable FTP...
FileZilla (ported from Windows) is a fast and reliable FTP client and server with lots of useful features and an intuitive interface. Version 3.21.0: Fixed Vulnerabilities Fixed a string format... Read more
EtreCheck 3.0.2 - For troubleshooting yo...
EtreCheck is an app that displays the important details of your system configuration and allow you to copy that information to the Clipboard. It is meant to be used with Apple Support Communities to... Read more
Microsoft Office 2016 15.25 - Popular pr...
Microsoft Office 2016 - Unmistakably Office, designed for Mac. The new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote provide the best of both worlds for Mac users - the familiar Office... Read more
Typinator 6.10 - Speedy and reliable tex...
Typinator turbo-charges your typing productivity. Type a little. Typinator does the rest. We've all faced projects that require repetitive typing tasks. With Typinator, you can store commonly used... Read more
The Hit List 1.1.26 - Advanced reminder...
The Hit List manages the daily chaos of your modern life. It's easy to learn - it's as easy as making lists. And it's powerful enough to let you plan, then forget, then act when the time is right.... Read more
Fantastical 2.2.5 - Create calendar even...
Fantastical 2 is the Mac calendar you'll actually enjoy using. Creating an event with Fantastical is quick, easy, and fun: Open Fantastical with a single click or keystroke Type in your event... Read more
Firefox 48.0.1 - Fast, safe Web browser.
Firefox offers a fast, safe Web browsing experience. Browse quickly, securely, and effortlessly. With its industry-leading features, Firefox is the choice of Web development professionals and casual... Read more
Adobe InDesign CC 2015 11.4.1.102 - Prof...
InDesign CC 2015 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous InDesign customer). Adobe InDesign CC 2015 is part of Creative Cloud.... Read more
Corel Painter 16.0.0.400 - $499.00
Corel Painter lets you advance your digital art style with painted textures, subtle glazing brushwork, interactive gradients, and realistic Natural-Media. Easily transition from traditional to... Read more
Thunderbird 45.2.0 - Email client from M...
As of July 2012, Thunderbird has transitioned to a new governance model, with new features being developed by the broader free software and open source community, and security fixes and improvements... Read more

What is Flip Diving, and why has it take...
Move over Pokemon GO. There's a new king in town, and it's "the world's #1 cliff diving game." [Read more] | Read more »
5 places where Pokemon GO is still numbe...
In the U.S., the bloom is off the Pokemon Go rose ever so slightly. It's still doing great, sitting atop the top grossing chart as it has for some time, but it's no longer among the top 10 free apps in downloads, possibly because darn near... | Read more »
Madden NFL Mobile: How defense has chang...
Saying that defense is not a priority in Madden NFL Mobile is a bit of an understatement. In asynchronous head-to-head play, you don't take control of your defenders at all, as the AI manages them while your opponent plays offense. When it's your... | Read more »
Feed Hawk (News)
Feed Hawk 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: News Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: Feed Hawk makes it easy to subscribe to the RSS feed of the website you are visiting. From within Safari, simply open a share... | Read more »
Reigns character guide: Who's who i...
Know your foes. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. And there are probably some other cliches that would apply to your perilous spot on the throne in Reigns as well. [Read more] | Read more »
Match 3 puzzler Small Lime is now availa...
Set to hit Android and IOS on the 17th August, Small Lime is the newest match 3 mobile game, and hopes to throw something a little different into the mix. If you love match 3 puzzles, but are tired of the same old ideas being re-hashed again and... | Read more »
Deus Ex GO tips, tricks, and hints
When Square Enix Montreal first hit us with Hitman GO,it was seen as a clever board game twist on a property that you wouldn't normally think would fit that kind of format. Lara Croft GOexpanded things even further while keeping some of the same... | Read more »
Leap of Fate (Games)
Leap of Fate 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: *** Minimum hardware: iPad 4, iPad mini 2, iPhone 5s. *** | Read more »
Hero Generations (Games)
Hero Generations 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Hero Generations is an innovative Roguelike/4X Strategy game where every turn is one year of your life. Praised as "the... | Read more »
Legend of the Skyfish (Games)
Legend of the Skyfish 1.02 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.02 (iTunes) Description: Legend of the Skyfish is a beautiful action adventure puzzle game with a unique weapon and tool - a fishing pole!... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Typinator 6.10 comes with 50 improvements – G...
Ergonis Software today announced release of Typinator 6.10, a new version of their text expander utility for macOS. Typinator 6.10 comes with 50 improvements, including new features, compatibility... Read more
Taxi Sim 2016 Puts Users Behind the Wheel in...
Ovilex Soft today announces Taxi Sim 2016, an update to their ultra-realistic 3D driving simulator app for iOS and Android devices — literally a global event what with the company’s nearly 450,000... Read more
11-inch 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Amazon has the current-generation 11″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (sku MJVM2LL/A) on sale for $788 for a limited time. Their price is $111 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model. Read more
Apple refurbished Mac minis available for up...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac minis available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $80 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
Apple refurbished 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 13″ Retina MacBook Pros available for up to $270 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.7GHz... Read more
12-inch 32GB and 128GB WiFi iPad Pros on sale...
B&H Photo has 12″ 32GB & 128GB WiFi Apple iPad Pros on sale for up to $70 off MSRP, each including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 12″ Space Gray 32GB WiFi iPad Pro: $... Read more
Apple refurbished 11-inch MacBook Airs availa...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 11″ MacBook Airs (the latest models), available for up to $170 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is... Read more
WaterField Launches Kickstarter for Intrepid...
San Francisco based WaterField Design have announced their first Kickstarter campaign for the one-of-a-kind Intrepid iPhone Travel Wallet. The all-new design includes iPhone play-through capability... Read more
Five of Top 10 Worldwide Mobile Phone Vendors...
Global sales of smartphones to end users totaled 344 million units in the second quarter of 2016, a 4.3 percent increase over the same period in 2015, according to Gartner, Inc. Overall sales of... Read more
DriveSavers Offers $300 Off Data Recovery Ser...
DriveSavers, with more than 30 years of experience recovering photos, videos, contact lists, financial records and other important data that may have been kept on devices damaged or even destroyed by... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions Germanto...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Professional Learning Specialist - A...
# Apple Professional Learning Specialist Job Number: 51234379 Portland, Maine, Maine, United States Posted: Aug. 18, 2016 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** The Read more
Lead *Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (...
# Lead Apple Solutions Consultant Job Number: 51218465 Richmond, VA, Virginia, United States Posted: Aug. 18, 2016 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** The Lead ASC Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (United...
# Apple Solutions Consultant Job Number: 51218534 Pleasant Hill, California, United States Posted: Aug. 18, 2016 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** As an Apple Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions Chestnut...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.