Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver logo

    Webcams delivering on the 20th century’s PicturePhone promise

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver 

    October 24-30, 2006; issue 887

    Picturephone Back in 1964, my family visited the New York World’s Fair. Along with the futuristic Unisphere, the high-tech hit of the fair was the Bell System’s PicturePhone. Yes, dial a number and get pictures and voice at the same time.

    The PicturePhone didn’t find wide popular acceptance, however. Perhaps few home users wanted to get a call on one as they were just stepping out of the shower.

    Fast forward 40 years or so, and the concept’s back again in a wide range of variations, now using computers and the Internet. Usage can range from corporate video conferencing to video phoning over Skype to teenagers adding a webcam to their instant messaging. A computer plus a webcam can act as a remotely accessible security camera in a shop, office or home.
    Creative Live! Motion There are lots of low and mid-priced webcams.

    Creative Labs Live! Motion (about $170) adds some unique features. Smart Face-Tracking allows the camera to smoothly pan and tilt to keep your face in the centre of the screen as you move horizontally and vertically. Its 200-degree horizontal view provides a wider angle of coverage than do most competitors.

    The Live! Motion works with most instant messenger services and can be monitored using a mobile phone or PDA. The camera’s base can be mounted on a flat surface or on the edge of an LCD or notebook screen.

    Other Creative webcams include the miniature Live! Cam Notebook Pro ($70) and the Live! Cam Voice ($135), which adds a set of noise-cancelling microphones, handy for use in noisy homes or offices, while taking 1.3 megapixel videos and 5.0 megapixel stills.
    Microsoft LifeCam Microsoft is new to the webcam market, but its LifeCam VX-6000 ($130) is packed with features. Like Creative’s similarly priced (and similarly named!) Live! Cam Voice, it includes a noise-cancelling microphone. Microsoft’s LifeCam also includes a 3x digital zoom and software focusing on integration with Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger service. For instance, one press of a button on top of the camera pops up Live Messenger’s Buddy Picker window, showing which of your contacts are currently online.

    Like Creative’s Live! Motion series, the LifeCam features automatic face tracking, though the camera displays only 71 horizontal degrees.
    iMac Not to be left out of the webcam party, Apple has gone one step further.

    While continuing to sell its iSight add-on video camera, the latest generations of its iMac desktops and Mac Book and Mac Book Pro notebooks all include a miniaturized version of the camera built into the top edge of the screen. The included iChat AV software can be used to video chat with up to three other Mac owners or to stay in touch with Windows users over the AOL Messenger network.
    Blackberry Pearl Of course, none of these are really phones. Blackberry has successfully merged mobile phone with always-accessible e-mail.

    Its new Pearl 8100 ($249 with Rogers plan) adds to Blackberry’s business features digital camera, multimedia capabilities and expandable memory, making it both a smart and fun phone.

    Like the company’s recent business-oriented 7130g, it works with Rogers’ high-speed Edge network and includes Sure Type software, making it possible to mimic a standard QWERTY keyboard using only 20 keys.

    It won’t work as a video-phone, but its 1.3 megapixel still camera, complete with digital zoom and flash; bright 240x260 pixel display; built-in music and video player; voice-dialling; and sleek design make it the first Blackberry to take off its tie and get down.

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan