18 January 2010

Two Webcams for the Price of One





Apart from occasionally begging my dad to let me look through the viewfinder of the VHS camcorder he'd bring home from work, and the Christmas video we shot one year, my first real experience working with video was a webcam. My Dad got it through work for videoconferencing. It was only in monochrome, but it delivered a very solid 30 frames per second, or at least above 15. Of course, that was the frame rate when the video was saved directly to a hard-drive; the frames dropped well below 10 per second during an actual video chat session (DSL was maybe being whispered about, but high-speed was pretty much nonexistent). Now, here we are, over ten years later, and I've learned many things about webcams, the most important thing being that color is a failure mechanism. Seriously, it's sad when a monochrome webcam from the mid-to-late 90s looked better than most webcams I've seen today.

I bought one once circa 2002, but I took it back after one day, citing its failure to get me a full 30 frames per second despite the iMac being well above the minimum system requirements. Again, the old monochrome webcam could get consistently higher than 15 frames per second, but this newer and more modern camera couldn't muster more than 10. Granted, the newer one was a lot cheaper compared to the monochrome one, which I think cost about 130USD at the time.

More recently I was reading a Cyberguys catalog and came across this little IPEVO number and was intrigued by its ergonomics. Later, I found a packaged deal on Amazon where I could get two for the price of one, and thought I'd give it a shot. I mean, surely there must be a lot of progress made between 2002 and today in the way of webcams.

I was wrong... mostly.

When I record directly to the hard-drive, I was really disappointed to see it not even rise to the level of a now-decades-old webcam despite the advances in technology in those intervening years. My PC, which has literally 5 times the processing power and RAM of the iMac, is still apparently not powerful enough to get this camera running anywhere close to 30 frames per second. Instead, it averages about 8.

That said, I'm not going to take it back.

Why? Because I like its quirky design, I like the fact that I got two of them for the same price, and, best of all, I like the picture effects. The picture effects include a black-and-white mode (which immediately earned its staying power on my desk) and something called "TV effect" which adds horizontal lines to make it look like an old security camera. Put simply, I love it. I can't explain it, somehow 8fps doesn't look so contrived or ugly when the video is in monochrome than color.

So, the IPEVO PoV is the newest implement in my lens-based arsenal.
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