1 History 2 Web-accessible cameras 2.1 Software
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3 Videoconferencing 4 Video security 5 As a control input device 6 Non-real-time webcams 7 Aggregators 8 Technology 9 Privacy 10 See also 11 References
Webcams (web cameras) are small cameras (usually, though
not always, video cameras), whose images can be accessed using the World Wide Web, instant messaging, or a PC video conferencing application. The term webcam is also used to describe the low-resolution digital video cameras designed for such purposes, but which can also be used to record in a non-real-time fashion. Web-accessible cameras involve a digital camera which uploads images to a web server, either continuously or at regular intervals. This may be achieved by a camera attached to a PC, or by dedicated hardware. Videoconferencing cameras typically take the form of a small camera connected directly to a PC. Analog cameras are also sometimes used (often of the sort used for closed-circuit television), connected to a video capture card and then directly or indirectly to the internet.
Started in 1991, the first webcam, called the CoffeeCam, was pointed at the Trojan room coffee pot in the computer science department of Cambridge University. This webcam is now defunct, as it was finally switched off on August 22, 2001. The final image captured by the camera can still be viewed at the webcam's homepage . The oldest webcam still operating is FogCam at San Francisco State University, which has been running continuously since 1994. As with many new technologies, webcams and webcam chat found early commercial adoption and aggressive technology advancement through use by the pornography industry. The adult industry required 'live' images and requested a Dutch developer to write a piece of software that could do this without requiring web
browser plugins. This led to the birth of the 'live streaming webcam', which is still available in various forms today. One of the most widely reported-on webcam sites was JenniCam, started in 1996, which allowed Internet users to constantly observe the life of its namesake, somewhat like reality TV series Big Brother, launched three years later. More recently, the website Justin.tv has shown a continuous video and audio stream from a mobile camera mounted on the head of the site's star. Recently, Apple and other computer hardware manufactures began building webcams directly into laptop and desktop screens. This eliminates the need to use an external usb or firewire webcam. This has been branded the NiK-cam.[citation needed
This Axis camera can be connected directly to a network or the Internet, via an RJ45 connector on its rear. Users can access the picture by connecting to an onboard web server. In addition to use for personal videoconferencing, it was quickly realised that World Wide Web users enjoyed viewing images from cameras set up by others elsewhere in the world. While the term "webcam" refers to the technology generally, the first part of the term ("web-") is often replaced with a word describing what can be viewed with the camera, such as a netcam or streetcam. Educators can use webcams to take their students on virtual field trips. Today there are millions of webcams that provide views into homes, offices and other buildings as well as providing panoramic views of cities (Metrocams) and the countryside. Webcams are used to monitor traffic with TraffiCams, the weather with WeatherCams and even volcanoes with VolcanoCams. Webcam aggregators allow viewers to search for specific webcams based on geography or other criteria.
Webcams connected to PCs can act as web-accessible cameras with certain software. Usually, this kind of software works with almost every webcam. Many different programs are available. Some of them are free and open source. Webcam software can be configured in many ways. Some software come with motion detection ability and time lapse capture options or both. Captures can be short videos in predefined length or still images. The captured files can be saved locally, uploaded to an internet server (via FTP or HTTP) (from which they can be made accessible to anyone over the web), or privately e-mailed to the user per predefined rules. Options for image size and quality, overlaying logos, and time stamping images are usually available. File names can be sequential numbers or current time. Some software allow automatic erasure of old files when not needed. Some software can remotely control certain brands of cameras, allowing rotation and tilting
As webcam capabilities have been added to instant messaging text chat services such as AOL Instant Messenger, one-to-one live video communication over the internet has now reached millions of mainstream PC users worldwide. Increased video quality has helped webcams encroach on traditional video conferencing systems. New features such as lighting, real-time enhancements (retouching, wrinkle smoothing and vertical stretch) can make users more comfortable, further increasing popularity. Features and performance vary between programs. Videoconferencing support is included in programs including Yahoo Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Windows Live Messenger, Skype, iChat, Paltalk (now PaltalkScene), Ekiga , Stickam, and Camfrog. Some online video broadcasting sites have taken advantage of this technology to create internet television programs centered around two (or more) people "diavlogging" with each other from two different places. Among others, BloggingHeads.tv uses this technology to set up conversations between prominent journalists, scientists, bloggers, and philosophers.
Webcams are being used for security purposes. Software is available allowing PCconnected cameras to watch for movement and sound, recording both when they are
detected; these recordings can be saved to the computer, e-mailed or uploaded to the internet. In one well-publicised case, a computer e-mailed out images as the burglar stole it, allowing the owner to give police a clear picture of the burglar's face even after the computer had been stolen.
As a control input device
Special software can use the video stream from a webcam to assist or enhance a user's control of applications and games. Video features, including faces, shapes, models and colors can be observed and tracked to produce a corresponding form of control. For example, the position of a single light source can be tracked and used to emulate a mouse pointer, a head mounted light would allow hands-free computing and would greatly improve computer accessibility. This can also be applied to games, providing additional control, improved interactivity and immersiveness. FreeTrack is a free webcam motion tracking application for Microsoft Windows that can track a special head mounted model in up to six degrees of freedom and output data to mouse, keyboard, joystick and FreeTrack supported games. The EyeToy for the PlayStation 2 and similarly the Xbox Live Vision Camera for the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live are color digital cameras that have been used as control input devices by some games. Small webcam-based PC games are available as either standalone executables or inside web browser windows using Adobe Flash.
A webcam that records to a video file is essentially no different from any other video camera which records directly to hard disk, including hi-def cameras such as the Thomson Viper, which would never be described as webcams. However, webcam is frequently used to describe any footage shot on the digital video cameras designed for real-time webcam use, recognizable by the distinct quality of image such cameras offer. An example of such webcam use would be in the film Dark Night by Justin Hall.
Due to the increasing volume of webcams throughout the world, aggregator websites have arisen, allowing users to find live video streams based on location or other criteria. Aggregators such as Livelook and Earthcam provide collections of thousands of live video streams.
Webcams typically include a lens, an image sensor, and supporting circuitry. Webcams typically include a lens, an image sensor, and some support electronics. Various lenses are available, the most common being a plastic lens that can be screwed in and out to set the camera's focus. Fixed focus lenses, which require no adjustment, are also available. Image sensors can be CMOS or CCD, the former being dominant for low-cost cameras, but CCD cameras do not necessarily outperform CMOS-based cameras in the low cost price range. Consumer webcams usually offer a resolution in the VGA region, at a rate of around 15 frames per second. Higher resolutions, as well as higher frame rates of up to 30 fps, are also available from the brands like Microsoft, Logitech, and HP. Support electronics are present to read the image from the sensor and transmit it to the host computer. The camera pictured to the right, for example, uses a Sonix SN9C101 to transmit its image over USB. Some cameras - such as mobile phone cameras - use a CMOS sensor with supporting electronics "on die", i.e. the sensor and the support electronics are built on a single silicon chip to save space and manufacturing costs. Most webcams feature built in microphones to make video conferencing more convenient. Creative Technology has introduced a webcam featuring built in noise cancellation to focus the audio to the speaker who is directly in front of the camera, excluding ambient noise. The USB video device class (UVC) specification allows for interconnectivity of webcams to computers even without proprietary drivers installed. Microsoft Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.5 have UVC drivers built in and do not require extra drivers, although they are often installed in order to add additional features.
Some 'Trojan horse' programs can allow malicious hackers to activate a computer's camera without the user's knowledge, providing the hacker with a live video feed from the unfortunate user's camera. Cameras such as Apple's older external iSight cameras include lens covers to thwart this. Most other webcams have a built-in LED that lights up whenever the camera is active (such as Apple's newer internal iSight). In mid-January 2005 some search engine queries were published in an on-line forum which allow anyone to find thousands of Panasonic- and Axis-made high-end web cameras accessible through the web. Many such cameras are running on default configuration, which does not require any password login or IP address verification, making them visible to anyone.
Use of webcams
Use of webcams at work and home has become a world wide web cultural revolution or change in how we communicate with each other. It can be broken down into positve, negative, freedom of expression or speech and what the future of webcam internet technology may hold.
In approximately 1996, webcam software and related technology was being born for general public use, as the JenniCam website could attest to in 1996. At this early stage the software being used was in its earliest stages of development, even though earlier references place it in 1991 with the Trojan room coffee cup project, the first attempt to broadcast a live digital image on the internet. What came with your home PC was not exactly what it had become today in 2008. Larger companies, corporations and some businesses were just learning how useful being able to communicate instantly via the internet live in real time was becoming useful and cost affective. With the advent of broadband and high speed DSL connections it became clear how useful the webcam and streaming video feeds had become. At the same time the technology behind seeing, communicating and hearing people instantaneously using their, cam or camera software was being developed at an
alarming pace, much like the computer, making it easier and easier for people of all ages at home to start using the technology.
Effects on modern society
As the webcam became more and more popular internet based companies began to see the potential of this emerging media format after years of using regular text chat sites and e-mail as the best way for ordinary people to communicate and begin to meet online-live. People could finally see and listen to each other instantly, this being a huge plus to the online dating industry and creating thousands of sites specifically targeted to men and women wanting to see who they were actually talking to online. With this breakthrough, text chat was soon overshadowed by webcam chat also known as video chat. Also, this created a certain degree of online safety such as that provided by a United Kingdom- based campaign called Get Safe Online established in October 2005. Before regular chat rooms people never knew who they were actually interacting with. Communication via the internet using the webcam medium had come to such extent that one would be hard pressed not to find live webcams broadcasting from every major city in the world covering every imaginable topic or news event as it happened at CNN in 1999 for the 2000 millennium celebrations around the world.
This technology is now available on thousands of websites world wide, making it easier for people of all ages to connect online and Communicate from anywhere in the world. People can broadcast or web cast their opinions, interests and stories whenever and as often as they wish. This new advance in technology had finally empowered the average individual to express his or her own views as do the larger internet media giants such asMicrosoft using webcams as outlined by Agam Shah, IDG News Service and stand on equal footing with them. A person only needs to plug their webcam in to their own computer, find a web host or server to carry the live feed and instant electronic media, something you could only have seen in the past when you turned on your TV at home. The regular internet user began setting up their own webcams in their own homes and broadcasting live, something previously only seen on news channels such as CNET. As more and more men and women catch on to this webcam revolution, the world using the internet truly becomes a global community, where you can see your friend or business associate in seconds and talk to them live from anywhere in the world. Every type of internet search engine, ie: Yahoo and or its Yahoo messenger service integrated the webcam as did MSN Messenger. News websites such as the BBC, run their own Live radio studio webcams. Web service such as AOL and their online messaging service, all smoothly integrated the webcam into their site and format. New future technologies abound such as webcam headgear where you actually wear your webcam and transmit it to the internet live and weather webcams, the possibilities seem endless. Youtube is another example of people using their own webcams to express whatever they feel as Time magazine posted the Power to the People article in 2006 to illustrate the point.
Possible negative uses
Negative uses of the webcam do enter into our everyday lives. With every home computer purchased the option to have a webcam integrated into the PC is as easy as plugging into a computer port. You can buy computers with built in webcams. Internet privacy is another concern and brings thousands of strangers into our homes, some possibly with criminal intent toward youngsters. Children and teens under the legal age of consent have easy access to this webcam software as it comes with all the latest online instant messaging programs installed with your computer or are easily downloaded from various sites as freeware or software upgrades. Adult webcam related material is also a large portion of the webcam related sites on the internet and can be easily accessed through search engines if no parental control is enforced. On 2007-03-23, a man named Kevin Whitrick, committed cyber suicide using his own webcam from his home live on the internet in front of viewers in a chat room website supporting webcam use.