It wasn't all that long ago that my friends and I were huddled around a 15-inch Apple Multiscan monitor, oohing and aahing at the grainy black-and-white video we had just created. We watched in amazement as it stuttered before oureyes at two or three frames per second. Nostalgia aside, Web cams have improved dramatically since then. The best evidence of that is the latest FireWire Web cams, which accommodate full-color video and more than 30 frames per second, at resolutions up to 640 x 480. We looked at two new products that demonstrate enough power for both videoconferencing and making a simple home movie for your family.
If you plan to set your Web cam on top of your monitor for full-time use, design is a practical consideration. ADS Technologies offers the Pyro 1394 Web cam, which comes in a translucent graphite housing. Its solid base makes the camera difficult to tip over. In contrast, Orange Micro's iBot Pro Desktop Video Camera has a quirkier and less functional base consisting of a thick wire twisted into the shape of a foot. However, it leaves something to be desired in terms of stability: the weight of the FireWire cable alone was enough to knock over the iBot a few times during our testing.
Ease of setup is another important factor. The Pyro 1394's installer gives you a choice of several applications, but it offers no information as to what they do or which ones you need. In addition, you must manually locate and run the HackTV application to view the video camera from the desktop. The iBot Pro installer, on the other hand, provides you with a detailed description of each application and a good overview of which ones to install for your specific needs.
Once you've installed the software and drivers and restarted the system, another difference between these two Web cams is even more apparent: picture quality. Colors in images from the Pyro 1394 appear noticeably washed out. Although you can adjust the levels within the video-recording application, it's a time-consuming procedure that still doesn't produce true-to-life color. In contrast, display from the iBot Pro had sharp, accurate color even without adjustments. The frame rates of both cameras (30 fps at 640 x 480) in theory areequal to those of some USB Web cams, but they perform much closer to their advertised frames rates than their USB counterparts, which flicker visibly. In addition, both allow quick and easy manual override of the autofocus feature,although no adjustments were necessary with either camera.
About ten different methods of capturing and compressing video and audio are available on each. Though segments shot using Sorenson looked and performed the best, we recommend leaving the compression engines in the default setting. Thisensures the best picture quality and may prevent system crashes such as we experienced while using the other compression engines.
The software bundle included with the iBot Pro is among the most generous in its category. It includes current applications such as Microsoft Windows NetMeeting, Smith Micro's VideoLink Pro, ClearPhone, and even Adobe Premiere LE for light editing of your footage. Moreover, the iBot is bundled with a microphone that delivers significantly better sound than you can get with the microphone that came with your Mac. In comparison, the Pyro 1394 comes with VideoLink Pro LE, ArcSoft's Photo Fantasy 2000, QuickTime HackTV, and VideoImpression. Both packages can get the basic job done, but since you can't use either Web cam with iMovie, the iBot Pro will allow you a few extra creative options. However, at press time, ADS Technologies said it anticipated a significant price drop in the Pyro 1394.iBot Pro FireWire Video CameraADS Pyro 1394 Webcam