Whether you want to create video e-mail to send to loved ones or to facilitate video-conferencing with friends and colleagues, Internet cameras (also known as webcams) can be both functional and great fun. Companies such as Logitech (www.logitech.com), iREZ (http://irez.globalmedia.com) and ADS Technologies (www.adstech.com) all make OS X webcams, but now Apple has its own, called iSight (www.apple.com.au/isight). iSight is used with iChat AV, a free program (currently in beta version) that makes video-conferencing under OS X easy.
iSight and iChat
With a metallic design in keeping with Apple’s new G5 desktop range, the $259 iSight ships with several mounting options. It requires a minimum 600MHz G4 processor, OS X 10.2.5 or later and a broadband connection. Featuring a built-in microphone and ¼in CCD sensor, the FireWire device is capable of capturing resolutions up to 640x480 at 30 frames per second (fps) in 24-bit colour — that’s TV quality, depending on your hardware (see PC World's October edition page 28 for a full review). For its part, iChat AV is essentially a tweaked audio-visual-capable update of Apple/AOL’s instant messenger software.
Installing iSight requires following only a few steps in the provided manual, and no drivers are needed.
Your first step is to download and install iChat AV from www.apple.com.au/ichat. If you’ve used iChat before you should find that, when started, iChat AV will automatically import your buddy list. To change account details, go to iChat-Preferences and select the Accounts icon.
Here you can enter your AOL screen name or .Mac account information. The drop-down box allows you to create a .Mac account. Although there are many benefits to purchasing a $189 .Mac account (see www.mac.com for more information), if you’re only looking to chat you may as well just register a free AOL screen name at http://my.screenname.aol.com and use that account information to sign into iChat.
All you need now is someone connected to iChat AV who also has a camera or a microphone. Add them to your Buddy list by going to Buddies–Add a Buddy. You’ll notice that you have a green video icon next to your name, indicating your video capability. This system applies to those in your Buddy list also, with a phone icon signifying solely voice/microphone capabilities.
Simply click on either of these icons to initiate a voice or video chat session. When you’re in a chat session, you should see yourself in a reduced picture-in-picture view.
If your friend has a microphone but not camera, you can still initiate a one-way video chat by clicking on that option in the Buddies menu. You’ve now turned your Mac into a video and voice phone without even paying long distance charges!
TIP: Clicking on your own video icon brings up a large preview window, so you can get yourself into frame, organise lighting and perhaps even fix your hair!
For anyone curious about video-conferencing with potentially interesting (yet unknown) strangers who traverse the Internet, one site has already sprung up to cater to this need: check out www.myisight.com.
If your budget won’t allow you to purchase an iSight webcam, there are alternatives. Those fortunate enough to own a FireWire DV camera should be able to use it easily with iChat AV without any additional steps required.
Those who already own a webcam (including ones originally developed for PCs) that have no OS X drivers may find the macam project (http://webcam-osx.sourceforge.net) interesting. The ‘Supported Cameras’ link lists the cameras that this free driver supports.
There are also steps you can take to get iChat AV working with USB webcams. See the Canadian Mac forum for more info.
The free Yahoo messenger, available at http://messenger.yahoo.com/messenger/download/mac.html, allows you to video-conference with PC users — something that iChat AV, at the time of writing, wasn’t supporting.
Video-conferencing with PC NetMeeting users
Microsoft’s NetMeeting software is one of the most popular video-conferencing programs available for PC users. Although it’s not supported by iChat AV, Mac OS X users can video-conference with NetMeeting users using free software available at http://xmeeting.sourceforge.net. Simply download the latest stable version of ohphoneX. Those who are a bit more IT savvy (such as Linux/UNIX users) might be interested in trying the OS X port of GnomeMeeting, which is also available from the site.
With ohphoneX installed and started, go to Preferences in the ohphoneX menu and select the Video tab. Make sure Enable Video Receive and Transmit are both ticked, then exit and restart the program. Now, just enter the IP address of the person who is using NetMeeting or ohphoneX, and you’re set.
Finally, BTV (www.bensoftware.com) is a handy little OS X application that can record video and photos from your webcam as well as help you create a Web page where you can upload a snapshot of yourself at given intervals. It’s easy to record, too: just click the Capture Frame/Movie buttons.