Do I Need a Webcam?

Do I Need a Webcam

If you buy a state-of-the-art computer today, you may find that it has a built-in webcam that allows you to broadcast live video on the internet. If not, but you have a fondness for gadgets, you may have wondered whether you should buy one.

In the decade since the webcam arrived, prices have plummeted and webcams retail at only a few dollars. You need only plug it into a USB port on your computer and install some software (some operating systems, such as Windows Vista, have the relevant drivers built-in). But do you really need a webcam? There are many reasons for having one, though for some purposes you might as well take digital footage and simply upload it. Nevertheless, a webcam can provide endless fun, as well as serving practical purposes. If you have a PlayStation or Xbox, you may already be taking advantage of some of the features of webcam technology.

That technology is relatively simple, although webcams and software with increasingly sophisticated features are available. The home user may need only a standard camera with a fixed focus lens. For other purposes, webcams with focussing lenses and the capacity to take a higher number of frames per second might be needed. The way your webcam functions is also partly software-dependent. Some software includes special features, including the capacity to kick in only on the detection of movement, and features for manipulating real time.

Recreational uses for your webcam

With a webcam you can post video on the world wide web with ease. If you have a great idea, you might even achieve fame. One of the first webcam hits was JenniCam, in which a woman set up a webcam so that anyone could view her life online. Some hit viral videos (such as lip-synching 'Numa Numa man': 24 million views) were created simply by performing to a webcam.

The rise of social networking has also boosted webcam popularity. Instant messaging programs (such as Yahoo Messenger, Windows live and AOL Live Messenger) allow live webcam chat with family, friends or strangers anywhere. There may be occasions when you need to communicate online by showing rather than telling (or typing). If you want to explain how to do something, a webcam is the simple solution, eliminating having to shoot and upload video.

Other applications for webcams

The webcam is a useful business tool, with ease of use helping it to take over from traditional videoconferencing. Advances in technology, with better images and smoother streaming, have helped move the webcam into the office environment.

First we had podcasting, with downloadable audio material for MP3 players. Webcasting allows you to disseminate images too, so almost anyone can become their own mini-TV station. Bloggers have also found that webcams can effectively augment their blogs.

Using webcams as security cameras is another innovation. Instead of CCTV and tapes, webcam images are stored on a server, providing an easy way to monitor your premises. Similar video monitoring has numerous educational, scientific and other applications, from watching wildlife to counting traffic.

For most users a webcam is little more than a toy. If you don't have one you can probably find a way around it. However, since broadband the internet is becoming an ever-more visual and virtual place. In time the webcam will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role in disseminating information.

Comments (8)

It will be the easy way find out about at the person behind the profil is the right...
my cam icon for my webcam doesnt always show up on my msn window?
Not for sex chat you dont,but it will bee nice to see peopel live.and know at this is the right one behind the profil,and the person is serious about it,ells it is a waist off time.for peopel there look serious here...
yeah man!!!

I forgot to mention that there are even Cameras that have BI-DIRECTIONAL (2 Two Way) Audio, like an intercom - with a built-in microphone and speakers, so that you can listen in and speak back, too!

Please allow for extra costs.
The same will be true for WIRELESS IP-Cameras (W-LAN IP-Cam), however wireless these are, you will still need a wire - even though it is only for the power!
(Unless you want to be changing batteries all the time.)

I myself prefer the IP-Cam option with PoE (Power over Ethernet) supplied via the power supply of the switch.

Please note:

If the IP-Cam does not have PoE, it will need an adapter to split the data signal from the power line.

If you are building up a larger setup you could run 4 such PoE switches with 4 - 8 PoE ports on 10/100Mbps and link them to a Gigabit (10/100/1000 Mbps) switch to be able to run all cameras full speed, and leave some space for later.


Running 8 cameras on a 100Mbps PoE switch
100 Mbps / 8 = 12.5 Mbps (max. per Camera, which should be more than enough - Normally an IP-Cam would not give such high streaming rates, but rather in the region of 1 ~ 4 Mbps)

However combining the load of 4 switches would be over 100 Mbps (or very close!). As the price of Gigabit switches is only about double as a 100 Mbps, for 10x the speed - there would be no reason to get a slower one anyway!
If you want to save power, go for a GREEN design - like the ones from D-Link, they are specially designed, to switch inactive channels into standby or off until needed again.
As the GREEN switches, also monitor the distance between points (lengths of cables), it would be good to use shorter cables (under 25m or so) as this will also play a role on how much energy is needed by the switch to operate correctly.

32 IP-Cam Setup (Calculations):

8 IP-Cams at ±4 Mbps would be ±32 Mbps (per PoE switch).
4 switches (with 8 cameras each) would then be 4x 32 Mbps = 128 Mbps. That is 28% over the max. data throughput (without any headroom).
However it would be very easy to connect each PoE switch's uplink port to a Gigabit switch and run at only 12.5% of the load!

When planning a new system, one should leave some capacity for the HD IP-Cams when they are coming to market. Please bear in mind that a HDTV picture has about 5x as much information to transmit compared to a standard TV picture.
On a more technical note ... (Part 2/2)

My suggestion is to stay on the IP-Cam side of things, these are the most flexible to use and the cabling is quite easy, as it is normal LAN cable (CAT5e cable, RJ45 connector). The maximum distance to the network (PC or hub, switch) can be up to 100 m away. Power can be provided from an external power source, or over the LAN cable via a special PoE (Power over Ethernet) converter. However you can also buy a switch (data switch, 10/100/1000Mbps) that comes with PoE ports which provide the needed power over the same LAN cable the data is transferred from the camera needing only one single cable to go there.
If you can get a built-in microphone (MIC) or even IR LEDs in your IP-Cam it would be good to get one like that, as it may come in handy when checking in to your home/workplace from basically anywhere and can listen-in, too!

The good thing is that WebCams and IP-Cams are becoming more available and the prices are coming down as the features are going up.
I did not mention, that some Cameras (still cameras and video cameras) have got features to be used as webcams. I would recommend this if you use a WebCam once in a blue moon.

Please make sure to get the correct external housing for cameras if you want to mount them outside - some of them don't like the sun too much and neither the rainwater or snow!!

WOW, just look how long this thing got ...
- Any questions? -
Talk to you again!
On a more technical note ... (Part1/2)

WebCams come in different flavours and price ranges. So when you go out and buy one there are various things to look out for. Be sure you have an idea what you want to use it for. Don't buy to have one - and then try look where you can use it!

A WebCam does not have to be expensive anymore. Some even on the lower end are now available with a built-in microphone (MIC), that is a good idea, as all signals are going through the USB or LAN cable.

There are actually 4 (or 5?) different types (groups of cameras)
(1) WebCam - usually working via USB with/without microphone. Cost from about US$ 12 at the entry level. Some WebCams now even come with MOVEMENT DETECTION software, that will start recording when something in the picture (or a pre-selected area is changing) making security work easyer.
(2) IP-Cam - this is a more sophisticated camera making use of a LAN connection instead of USB and normally has more features, sometimes even a built-in webserver and can be connected straight onto your computer network or the Internet. These have their own unique address and more than one can be used through out the network. Prices are normaly higher in the region of about US$ 200. See: Point 5: High speed Dome Cam.
(3) CCTV camera - these have a normal antenna output and are actually to be used on a TV or VCR (video recorder) or DVR (digital video recorder/DVD recorder/PC security system).
(4) SecuriCam (Security Camera, either CCTV cameras or Digital SeciriCam with USB or LAN connections) - which also have Infra Red (IR) LEDs to light up the items to be viewed, even at night in total darkness. The top of the range can reach up to 60 m and more.
(5) High speed Dome Cam - This is the type of camera that is the top of the range IP-Cam that is fully controllable normally with a zoom lense (from 10x up to 30x optical and more). They also have an almost 360° pan and a marginal tilt feature. Meaning they can be remote controlled and can be positioned onto exact targets for security work, line high ways, shopping centres, or in a zoo, etc. The cost can be about US$ 3000 or so.

The cameras in Point 4 and 5 need an antenna input to be connected to a PC or a TV Card. If you can record from an RCA input a VCR (video cassette recorder) can be used to convert the antenna input to RSA out put though.

Another important point to mention here is that CCTV Cameras still all have ANALOGUE outputs (antenna cables {RF} or RCA {LF})! The trend is towards HD-Cams for full HDTV pictures!! Yes, at a price! - but this would mean they will come with HDMI connectors or such like to be able to connect to a HDTV. The only draw-back would be that these cables cannot be too long!

See: Part (2/2) ...

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