Smile! Today’s technology can zip your grin to friends and relatives far away almost instantly via the Internet at a very affordable price. For around $100 bucks, a Webcam-also known as a PC video camera or desktop camera-makes it possible to attach your photo or 30-second video to e-mail, or you can send a live image while you participate in a videoconference with one or more participants. And the connection won’t cost any more than a telephone call.
What’s the downside? As always, the quality of your experience is largely influenced by the product you buy and the speed of your equipment. Although several competitively priced PC video cameras, which should not be confused with digital cameras, have hit the market, they vary widely in performance, final product and software capabilities. Nevertheless, the Intel PC Camera Pack and the Logitech QuickCam Pro consistently receive high marks from industry experts. Here’s what we found:
Intel PC Camera Pack
This cleverly designed PC video camera produced the sharpest images of the two products. Just remember to set the sharpness setting to high, maintain the proper lighting and manually adjust the focus for optimal performance. You can hook up the Intel PC Camera Pack in a snap. Just connect the cable to the universal serial bus (USB) port, assuming that your computer has one, and let the games begin-literally. Along with applications that support the camera’s videophone and e-mail use are a wide selection of family-friendly interactive games. There’s also an extra CD with a copy of the software for you to mail to a friend. Alternatively, you may find the need to push a button on the top of the camera for a snapshot a little awkward, especially since the camera will probably be mounted on the top of your computer monitor. You should also check the software requirements because the camera is compatible with only Windows 98.
Logitech QuickCam Pro
This is probably the most thoughtfully designed PC video camera available. Unlike the Intel PC Camera Pack, you won’t have to permanently stick the camera on the top of your monitor, so you’re free to use it with different computers. The camera can also be detached from its cradle so you can shoot something up close. The software is easy to use too. And you don’t have to worry if you’re computer isn’t USB-ready because Logitech’s camera can also be connected to a parallel port-although you’ll probably have to disconnect your printer to make the connection. The quality of still photos is great, but video projections may be slightly blurry. Also, purchasers have reported customer service issues (check product review on www.cnet.com) and we also found it difficult to reach the firm’s staff. But as one 15-year-old reported, the use of the Logitech PC Video Camera is “almost idiot-proof.”
- Determine your needs. Some things are nice to have, but don’t pay for any extras you don’t plan to use. Instead, stick to the basics and pass on the fancy upgrades.
- Look for easy