The wild, wacky world of webcams grows up -- kinda

The Web is chock full of cameras targeted at just about anything you can think of

A decade ago, it was a clever novelty: a webcam pointed at an office water cooler. The first one is still online, at www.coolercam.com, broadcasting a fresh picture every 10 seconds.

But in the succeeding decade, webcams have grown from a techie novelty to a way of life for some people -- some of whom have evidently overdosed on them.

As for the cooler camera, "Way back then, it got a lot of hits, but the counter has not gone up hugely in the last couple of years," said Ryan Wilson, manager at Interactive Market Systems, the water cooler's home. Located in the US, the firm provides statistical analysis for marketers. "There used to be a Web ring of cooler cams, but that has all gone away," he said.

Fredrik Nilsson, North American manager at Swedish webcam vendor Axis Communications, isn't surprised. "It was fun to make a live image of a water cooler in 1996, but it is not very impressive today -- you need a real application," he said.

Nilsson noted that there are actually two kinds of digital cameras used to put video or stop-motion pictures on the Web. Consumer-grade cameras that attach to a computer via a USB port are typically referred to as webcams. Cameras with integrated intelligence that can attach directly to the Internet are called network cameras.

Webcams can sell for as little as US$20, while network cameras can be had for less than US$200. Most (like the cooler cam) are used to make snapshots every few seconds rather than full-motion video.

Better quality

Quality has improved steadily since the devices appeared in 1996, Nilsson noted. Most webcams can generate 30 frames per second when there's available bandwidth. Average resolutions are between VGA (about 300,000 pixels) and 2 megapixels.

"As recently as three years ago, you never saw anything higher than VGA," he noted. "As for color quality, I would say that the cameras have been close to true color for the last two years now." Light sensitivity is good enough that it hardly matters in most settings, and night vision is available for about $500, he added.

The most significant trend among network cameras has been the rise of large markets for the cameras among construction contractors, departments of transportation and departments of tourism, noted Brian Curry, head of EarthCam, a network camera vendor.

The construction contractors want cameras to document the progress of the construction of a particular building, with the images accessible via the Internet to all the stakeholders of that building, Curry said. Transportation officials like them for traffic management, security and to document daily operations. Tourism officials, of course, want to broadcast scenery, Curry said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags webcams

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lamont Wood

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?