WEB CAM SETUP
n 1991, at Cambridge Universi-ty in England, re s e a rchers in theTrojan Room of the computerlaboratory attached a camera toa video-capture device and trained it onthe lab’s lone coffee pot. Researchers couldthen run a program to check whether therewas coffee in the pot, rather than walk down the hall or up the stairs to find thepot empty (as was often the case). The cof-fee pot images made their way to the World
Wide Web a few years later, and the con-cept of the Webcam was born .A simple concept underlies We b c a m s :run a video camera continually, get a pro-gram to capture an image to a file everyfew seconds or minutes, and upload theimage file to a Web server for display ona Web page. The whole point of a We b-cam is that the picture available to We bvisitors changes frequently. As a result, aWebcam can show everything from a cor-porate headquarters to some fish swim-ming around in a tank. Or how much cof-fee is currently in the coffee pot.Those applications are fun, of course,but if you are running a business, you’renot likely to keep a Net connection open just so your customers can have 24x7 vi-sual access to the aquarium in your foy-e r. What might your business use a We b-cam for? You could, to begin with, pro-duce informational videos for downloadover the Internet (much smaller video filesthan you would get from high qualityvideo production systems).You could also use it to store images of a meeting in pro g ress—a meeting, for ex-ample, during which the members of ateam brainstorm on a design they’resketching as they work. Webcams arecheap and they capture pictures easily,so you could train the camera on the de-sign itself and thus photographicallyre c o rd its pro g ress. This setup would al-low the designers and the client to seevarious stages of the design. Having are c o rd of the design’s evolution also helpsif you want to restart the process at a spe-cific point. It also could allow remote usersto see the pro g ress of the meeting.You may also want to use a Webcam toc a p t u re images of your booth during atrade show, so that people unable to phys-ically attend the show could make a vir-tual visit. Webcams can also be used fora host of nefarious purposes (“spycams”a re a classic example), but we won’t con-c e rn ourselves with those. We’ll be tak-ing a look at what you need to set up yourfirst Webcam.
F I R ST YOU NEED A CA M E R A
First, hard w a re. Specifically, a camera.But not just any camera, of course. For aWebcam, you want a digital video cam-era of the type that attaches to your com-puter and lets you re c o rd video for send-ing over the Internet. Typical examplesa re the Intel Create and Share CameraPack, the Logitech QuickCam series, andthe 3Com HomeConnect system (see thephotograph); there are many others. Yo ucan also use any camcorder by passing itssignal through a video capture peripher-al card or a video card that includes videoc a p t u re, such as an ATI A l l - i n - Wo n d e rc a rd. As long as your setup can captureimages in JPEG or GIF f o rmat and uploadthem to a Web server (as discussed below),it is suitable for Web use.
Web cameras have become something of a phenomenon, allowing the Internet’s inhabitants fro ma round the world to step into someone else’s world, mere ly at the cl i ck of a hy p e r t ext link. In thisguide we detail how you can become part of this growing population by setting up a virtual eye into your own world. And, just think, it all started from an innocuous coffee pot . . .