VideoCAM, by Kensington
Posted: 19-September-2001

3 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Kensington Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: HARDWARE

Kensington is well known for Macintosh peripherals such as trackballs and optical mice, most of which are top-of-the-line products and a welcome enhancement to any Mac system. For this reason, I was very excited to get a chance to use and review Kensington's USB VideoCAM, their entry into the desktop video camera arena. The VideoCAM comes in three flavors: VideoCAM [$39.99], VideoCAM VGA [$69.99], and VideoCAM Super VGA [$99.99]. The low end provides 400 x 300 ppi (CIF), the medium provides 640 x 480 ppi (CIF), and the high end provides 800 x 600 ppi (SVGA) along with CMOS sensor technology. The high end is not supported on the Mac platform. This review was done on the low end unit.

Features

  • Good quality image and video capture
  • CIF 400 x 300 ppi (4.9" x 4.0" window)
  • E-mail color snapshots or chat face-to-face with intuitive, powerful software
  • Tethered camera with 6-foot cord plugs into USB port

Reviewed On

  • G3/333 w/ATI XClaimVR 128 card, 384MB RAM, Mac OS 9.0.4


The Hardware
I've seen a lot of different hardware designs for desktop video cameras, but I have to say that I like the VideoCAM design the best. It has a much more solid base which makes it a more sturdier device. It's light, and easy to manoeuvre. The eye piece is on a swivel which can be adjusted up and down, and there is a screw hole in the bottom for attaching it to a tripod or some other object. The button on the top allows you to snap a picture, a feature which is also available in the VideoCAM software.

The quality of the low end unit seemed pretty good to me, so I imagine that higher end models might knock your socks off. It's unfortunate that the highest end of the units is not supported on the Mac platform.

The Software
The VideoCAM comes with VideoCAMworks software which includes two VideoCAM extensions (i.e., you will need to reboot after installation). This is where I ran into my first problem. Once this software was installed, my XClaimVR 128 card would no longer operate. The monitor worked, but the video input signals did not. Upon further investigation, I found that the VideoCAM QT Component extension was the culprit. Once that extension was removed, everything was working fine again (except, of course, for the VideoCAM). Upon going to Kensington's support site, it turned out that there were no software updates to fix this problem; and worse, a message stating that no software updates were in the works. They weren't discriminating against the Mac, however, as they stated the same thing about the Windows version of their VideoCAM software. To Kensington's credit, they do offer a refund of your purchase if you find yourself in this position.

The VideoCAMworks software has a very stylish interface, with size control settings for adjusting your camera use. The settings are brightness/contrast, hue/saturation, image zoom, snapshot size, timer, and video recording. Above the settings is the camera window which displays the video signal coming in from the VideoCAM. Below the settings are two buttons, one for taking snapshots (JPEG or PICT format), and one for recording video (Quicktime Movie). Snapshots can also be timed, giving you time to position yourself for some self-photography. The picture quality, as one might expect, is nowhere near the quality of the average digital camera, but these pictures are great for posting on the web or emailing to a friend. Movies are not the best quality either, but again, you get low overhead movies as a very reasonable cost (a good digital video camera is in the $800 to $1000 price range). Below is a sample video (compressed with Sorenson for faster web loading).

Both snapshots and recorded video are automatically saved to your "Tray", which is at the bottom of the window. On the left are two sliders, one for browsing your computer, and the other for setting up collections. At the top of the window are buttons which, for the most part, are self-explanatory based upon the picture. For example, the envelope button is a button for emailing an item from your tray. Not all the buttons are that clear (i.e., the far right button), so text popups would have been helpful. The big space in the middle of the window, when not utilized by one of the left sliders, is a button to take you to Kensington's web site.

Overall, I found the interface was well done. It provided a lot of functionality in a stylish fashion. Changing the picture format should have been added into the snapshot control settings, but instead is only changeable by way of the single item "Camera" menu. Other than that, functionality was quite intuitive. There were some quirky behavior with the settings, such as double-clicking a number would not highlight the number to let you type over it, and the image zoom and snapshot size box dragging was not too smooth.

The real excitement about desktop video cams is the ability to talk with someone over the internet, sharing video displays. VideoCAMworks does not provide this functionality, but the CD did contain a demo version of CU-Seeme software that supports video conferencing. VideoCAMworks is documented as integrated with CU-Seeme so that you can click on a tab in the VideoCAMworks window to switch, but that tab never showed up for me. I had to manually launch the CU-Seeme software. The demo version allows you only a few moments to play, and then it quits (asking you to purchase the full version). For the most part, it seemed to work, except that my video display was always a close up (i.e., people got a good shot of my mouth and nose). No matter what I tried, I could not get the video to back off. If I went back to VideoCAMworks (which, btw, would not display the video until I quit from CU-Seeme), the video was zoomed out, so I really don't know where the problem stemmed. This was the biggest disappointment for me. Between the time-outs and the persistent close-up shots, my experience with video conferencing was frustrating.

Conclusion
With a stylish and sturdy design, the Kensington VideoCAM is a nice addition to your Mac system if you're interested in inexpensive snapshots and video for emailing to friends and family. If your need is video conferencing, you might want to find a package which includes full video conferencing software, or get ready to purchase your own (the Mac Guild recommends Smith Micro's
VideoLink Pro).


Pros

  • Stylish and sturdy hardware design
  • Intuitive interface in VideoCAMworks
  • Provides snapshots and movies ready for emailing

Cons

  • Software incompatibilities & quirky setting controls (with no planned software updates)
  • Does not include full video conferencing software
  • Problems in CU-Seeme getting video to zoom out


Overall Rating

3 out of 5 Mice