USB Web Cams

In these days of USB, adding a video camera to your Mac to use for Internet videoconferencing and quick image snapping is remarkably easy--and the cross-platform compatibility of the USB connection means there are more Mac video cameras to choose from than ever before.

Macworld Lab recently looked at two recent contenders, 3Com's Home Connect and Irez's Kritter. Both offered the painless setup we've come to expect from USB, but they're quite different when it comes to image quality.

Sample images from the 3Com Home Connect (above) and Irez Kritter (below).

kritterimage

The Kritter's Mac software comes on an included CD, whereas the Home Connect only comes with Windows software -- Mac users must download their software from 3Com's Web site before they can use the camera.

Once we got the cameras set up in the Macworld Lab, we begin to notice qualitative differences. The Kritter created superior video, but the image quality had a lot of noise, and seemed to be slightly out of focus, or look like a bad copy of a videocassette. However, it was easy to change camera settings to capture smooth video at various quality levels -- from black-and-white up to millions of colors.

The Home Connect, on the other hand, excelled at overall image quality, but the pre-release Mac software we downloaded was buggy, and we had a devil of a time making movies with it. Although we tried many of the different included compression settings, we never could get a movie that didn't feel jerky or have dropped frames.

If you're willing to find extra software and just download the drivers needed for the Home Connect, you'll have better luck with video and still images. We had good results with the Home Connect using the $199 Sorenson Broadcaster (888/767-3676), the $100 ClearPhonePPC videoconferencing software (714/234-1111), the $15 BTV 3.2.6, and the $149 SiteCam 5.0 (510/523-2267; see the

4.0 mice
Macworld review ). The Kritter is also compatible with all these video packages.

The Home Connect's still image quality was significantly better than the Kritter, even when the camera was set to capture and display 640x480. Even after making a lot of adjustments to the Kritter, its images still didn't look as sharp as those from the Home Connect. The Kritter also tended to warp images at the corners, giving them a fish-eye feel.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Overall, if you need a camera to make quick movies from your desktop for sending to friends and family via e-mail, the Kritter USB is a good choice. For still pictures, where full-motion video is not an issue, the Home Connect USB offers superior image quality.

HomeConnect USB

RATING:

3.0 mice
PROS: Great image quality. CONS: Weak software gave us bad video files. COMPANY: 3Com (www.3com.com, 800/638-3266) PRICE: $173.

Kritter USB

RATING:

3.5 mice
PROS: Smooth video, included software. CONS: Image quality is poor, with lots of noise. COMPANY: Irez (www.irez.com) PRICE: $130.

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