Webcam Basics

Instead of just communicating over the internet with text and emoticons, people are beginning to realize just how easy and fun it is to send video clips through cyberspace. Webcam setups range from simple to complex, and increasing the complexity is only a matter of adding functionality through software, custom code and/or equipment connections.

A simple Webcam setup consists of a Digital Camera attached to your computer, usually through the USB port. The camera part of the Webcam setup is just a digital camera -- nothing out of the ordinary so far. The "Webcam" functions of the camera originate from the software. Webcam software takes a frame from the digital camera at a preset interval (for example, the software might grab a still image from the camera once every 30 seconds) and transfers it to another location for viewing.

If you're interested in using your Webcam for streaming video, you'll want a Webcam system with a high frame rate. The frame rate indicates the number of pictures the software can grab and transfer in one second. For streaming video, you need a minimum rate of at least 15 frames per second (fps), and 30 fps is optimal. To achieve high frame rates, you must necessarily have a high-speed internet connection.

Once it captures a frame, the software broadcasts the image over your Internet connection. There are several broadcast methods. Using the most common method, the software turns that image into a JPEG (compressed) file and uploads it to a web server using File Transfer Protocol (FTP). You can easily place a JPEG image onto any web page in this manner and post your webcam images on the internet.

If you don't have your own Web server or web site, you can also use your web cam to send a video email. First, launch the software that comes with the camera. Depending on the model, the process of e-mailing and recording your video messages may vary. Press Start or Record to begin the video message. Click Stop and then preview the video. You can then click E-mail or Send, which automatically opens your default e-mail program.

When sending a video e-mail, the longer the video message recorded, the bigger the attachment will be, so make sure the recipient's computer can handle the size. The recipient of the e-mail does not need special software to see your video message; they simply choose to open the attachment and the mini movie will play.

Another increasingly popular way to use your web cam is a chat session with webcams in "real time" with instant messaging (IM) programs. During an IM chat, there will be an option to start the webcam right on the screen, or under the Options or Tools menu. In Windows Messenger, for example, the words Start Camera are on the right-hand side of the screen. It is also possible to adjust the volume, window size, and video resolution with IM options. The person on the other end also needs a webcam to visually chat.

Adjust your camera's focus, point it toward your face, and most importantly, look right into the "eye" of the webcam so your friends on the other end see more than just your forehead. Keep in mind that some webcams require an additional microphone to record audio.

Don't expect terrific video quality. It's often possible to adjust the video resolution by toying with the webcam's software settings, but the higher the quality, the choppier the video frame rates will be. Webcams can also be used for remote security monitoring, but beware of hackers who could intercept your video feed and then spy on YOU. Make full use of passwords and encryption.

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Author: Brian Lee is co-owner of 100% Customer Satisfaction Guarantee on entire line of digital cameras, camcorders, webcams, security cameras, camera phones, photo printers, & accessories.

Webcam Basics


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