Review: The Orange Micro iBot Pro
Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 5
Column Tag: Review
Review: The Orange Micro iBot Pro
by John C. Welch
No, really, the iSight isn't the only game in town
iSight, iSight, iSight. If you listen to the iHype, you'd iThink that the all good FireWire cams must start with "I". Now, the iSight is an excellent webcam, but it's hardly the only one out there. Orange Micro's iBot was available long before the iSight, and in many cases, is a better choice.
The iBot is the embodiment of the "uniSight". It's got a great bulbous body, a stand that sort of resembles a foot, and the FireWire cable is permanently attached to the body. It looks like a blue and white translucent tennis ball that grew an eye, a foot and a tail. There's no mounting clips included, since you don't mount it. You set it down on a flat surface.
That's the first problem with the iBot. Since the cable comes straight out of the back of the iBot, it can sometimes be a pain to set up correctly. The cable is on the thick side, so depending on how it runs from the iBot to the computer; you may have to resort to devices like books, or duct tape to get the iBot to stay in one position. The cable attachment also limits vertical orientation, since the weight of the cable can tip the iBot if you tilt the camera too far down. On the plus side, the base attaches to the sides of the iBot, and while the iBot can pivot on those points, it's hardly loose, so once you get it tilted correctly, it's not going to change that orientation because of a loose pivot. If you can deal with cable and mount issues, the iBot gives you a far greater vertical adjustment range than the iSight's mount allows for. A thinner, detachable cable would be a definite plus in any case. Allowing for different kinds of mounts would be a plus too.
Using the iBot
Even allowing for its differences, the iBot is quite easy to use. You have to manually focus, which can be tedious, but once the focus is set, you can leave it alone. (There are times when you just want to set the cam up and have it stay that way. The iSight's auto focus, while mostly convenient, can be quite annoying if there's a lot of motion in the cam's field of vision. Anything the iSight works with, the iBot should work with just fine. I found picture quality between the iSight and the iBot to be comparable, and while the iBot doesn't include a microphone, is just as good a cam as the iSight.
With recent upgrades to iMovie allowing you to use cams such as the iBot as video sources, you can now use the iBot as a very cheap way to get video into your Mac. (No, you are NOT going to get the same quality from an iBot, as you will from a real DV camera. But as a quick 'n' dirty workaround, it's not bad. The iBot comes with an excellent array of software, especially in the Pro configuration, which was the review config. Among the choices is the iVisit video conferencing package, and BTVPro, an excellent basic DV capture utility that has excellent AppleScript support. The iBot pro also comes with an analog headset mic, which makes video conferencing a lot more convenient, and is a nice touch. (Now, if Orange Micro were to eventually replace that with their Bluetooth headset that would be a very sweet package indeed.) Considering the iBot Pro package is about $30 less than the iSight, yet includes a lot more features and software, it's a compelling alternative to the iSight, albeit with an unfortunate base design.
If you decide on the iBot Pro, you shouldn't worry that you won't be one of the iKool iKids. The package is a great deal, and it's built around a great cam.
John Welch <firstname.lastname@example.org> is an IT Staff Member for Kansas City Life Insurance, a Technical Strategist for Provar, (http://www.provar.com/) and the Chief Know-It-All for TackyShirt, (http://www.tackyshirt.com/). He has over fifteen years of experience at making Macs work with other computer systems. John specializes in figuring out ways in which to make the Mac do what nobody thinks it can, showing that the Mac is a superior administrative platform, and teaching others how to use it in interesting, if sometimes frightening ways. He also does things that don't involve computertry on occasion, or at least that's the rumor.