Feb 2009                                                                                                     

Web Master Wanderings
By Curt Potsic, Space Coast PC Users Group

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SCPCUG Web Master Curt Potsic

Put that WebCam to Use

I now have my old D-Link USB webcam, that I bought for $5 (after a $25 rebate) in 2001, working on Vista. I knew the webcam had been discontinued long ago and wondered if it would work on Vista. I had WinXP drivers from 2004 sitting on my hard drive and figured after I plugged the webcam in and Vista found "New Hardware" it would look for drivers on my hard drive. I was set to even point to the WinXP drivers. Instead Vista went to Windows Update on the Internet and automatically installed drivers dated 8/28/2001. And they work! Vista said it installed Dual Mode USB Camera Plus drivers. I was curious as to the manufacturer so I went to Device Manager which told me the Driver Provider was OmniVision. I "Googled" OmniVision and found out that they make the CMOS Image Sensor chips for webcams. Sometimes Vista amazes me!

Next I did a test recording of my webcam using Windows Media Encoder 9 Series, a great free program from Microsoft available at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/forpros/encoder/default.mspx.

Windows Media Encoder 9 Series

You can view my test recording on our SCPCUG website at http://www.scpcug.com/winmedia/testwebcam2.wmv.

The Windows Media encoder software automatically got installed on my Vista computer back in 2007 when I installed Ulead DVD Movie Factory 6 Plus to do its review for the Space Coast PC Journal (http://www.scpcug.com/wmwand40.html). The encoder basically captures and converts your video and audio input to Windows Media format but it has a lot of options which governs how large the resulting file will be. A Wizard walks you thru the selection process and by your choices selects a template. The template's parameters can then be further refined as you desire. For my test recording I selected an output for a Pocket PC. It then set the output resolution (208x160), bit rate (259Kbps), frames/sec (20), etc. The resulting file is 1.6 MB and 51 seconds long which is not too big a file size for sending as a video mail message.

The Encoding Results from my test recording can be seen in the figure below.

Win Media Encoding Results


Improved Results with Mini Camcorder

I next decided to see what would happen if I used my Canon Optura 20 Digital Video (miniDV) Camcorder to do a Video Mail message. I had found this free video mail website FreeGabMail (http://www.freegabmail.com/) so I connected my camcorder via Firewire to the Vista computer and recorded a message. You can view the results at http://FreeGabMail.com/AV/Viewer.html?SID=1fw7BOi00nhGKT0n.

The image quality was a great improvement over my webcam when recording and reviewing the message. But when I clicked the link provided to view the actual message on the web you can see some pixelation which is apparently due to the compression they are using. Still, the camcorder provides much better image quality than my cheapy 2001 webcam. I don't know if the FreeGabMail program will recognize a camcorder output via USB. I would think it would since it will recognize a webcam via USB. You can right-click the FreeGabMail Viewer screen to bring up the Adobe Flash Player Settings, click the camera icon and see under camera if your camcorder is recognized. If it's listed, click it's name to select it and your video image should appear on screen in FreeGabMail's viewer. For sound I used an external microphone (my speech recognition headset) plugged into the computer as the audio from the camcorder's mic is not passed through. With sound and video you are all set to record a video mail message. Note that you can review your recorded message and do it completely over if you do not like the results but there is no capability for selectively editing your recorded message. Also nowhere is there a mention as to how long your recorded message will be available for viewing.

A screen capture of what FreeGabMail looks like using my camcorder is shown below.

FreeGabMail using Camcorder


Free Quick Media Converter

Finally, if you need a media conversion program try Quick Media Converter 3.6.0 at http://www.cocoonsoftware.com/. It's a 25MB zipped download and it's free. It was voted one of the Most Popular Free Windows Downloads of 2008 at LifeHacker.com (http://lifehacker.com/5110552/most-popular-free-windows-downloads-of-2008). The Quick Media Converter 3.6.0 Information Page is at http://www.cocoonsoftware.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=92&Itemid=72 and Video Help Tutorials are at http://www.cocoonsoftware.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=category&sectionid=6&id=14&Itemid=52.

Editor’s Note:
Another program of this type is called Eyejot Video mail. You can access it at http://www.eyejot.com/about.html. The whole concept of video mail is greatly enhanced with the introduction of webcams as standard on notebook computers. As Curt did and I have tried, you may use a digital camcorder as a webcam for this purpose. You may also find a lot of information on webcams for use with desktop computers at sites such as http://tinyurl.com/aybjhe.

Note: Web Master Wanderings articles contain links to external web sites. Web addresses are constantly changing. There is no guarantee that the information links provided in this article will remain unbroken or up-to-date beyond the date that this article is originally published.