49. Webcams great for far-away
By Mark Alberstat
If you bought the family a new computer last year, maybe you are thinking
about some additions to that gift. A popular item along those lines is a
These are small cameras that attach to your PC, usually through a USB
port, and can send and save moving images.
If you want to show Aunt Ethel in Minnesota little Joey playing with that
train set she bought him, this is the perfect way to do so. If you know
someone involved in a long-distance relationship, a webcam may be the
perfect gift. And at the cost of them, maybe you could splurge and buy one
for each of the two people. Not only will it be a good gift, but you could
help save that relationship.
People are also using these cameras for video conferencing. With the
popularity of programs like NetMeeting, which is built into most recent
versions of Windows, you can host your own meeting through your webcam.
When shopping for a webcam, the average consumer can quickly become
overwhelmed by the choice available. There are, however, two basic things
to keep in mind, frames per second and resolution.
Frames per second is straightforward. It is the number of individual still
images that the camera takes to make the image at the other end, or the
stored image, seem like it is moving. The more frames per second, the
smoother moving the image will appear. Most webcams feature about 20 to 30
frames per second. This will give fairly fluid motion.
Resolution is also easy to understand. The higher the resolution, the
larger the file that the camera is creating. If you are going to be using
the cam to take stills as well as video - and e-mail these stills - higher
resolution is not necessarily a good thing as the image size will be
higher. Most webcams capture images at a resolution of 640 x 480.
Within the last two years, a new breed of webcam has hit the market, and
that is the detachable webcam. These can double as low-end digital
When shopping for this type, watch for the megapixel rate and the memory.
The more expensive models will have a higher megapixel number. These
cameras also come with internal memory, and some will come with slots for
memory cards to expand that base memory.
Prices for webcams can vary widely. A quick look at an online store's site
shows webcams from $70 to $200. What the consumer has to decide is what
his or her primary use for this cam will be and which cam best suits that
As with all computer-related items, people often buy gadgets that have
features that will never be used but they pay for them all the same.
With thoughts running through your head of resolution, frames per second
and whether you want a detachable or fixed cam, you should be well-armed
to go to that shop in the mall and talk like a pro when buying a webcam to
put under the tree.
The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community
Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about
computing, email email@example.com. If we use your question in
a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.
Originally published 19 December 2004