by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor <email@example.com>
Almost two years after bringing video input capability within financial reach of ordinary Mac users with its attractive, spherical QuickCam video camera, Connectix recently upped the ante with the new Color QuickCam, available shortly from dealers and mail-order firms for about $230. The new camera sports the familiar spherical eyeball form, and connects to a Macintosh via both a serial port and an ADB (keyboard and mouse) port. The ADB connection brings power to the camera; the connector has a pass-through port so users won't lose an ADB port. Connectix is offering a $30 rebate to anyone purchasing a QuickCam through 31-Jul-96 (the camera currently comes with a rebate form).
The new unit's color CCD (charged couple device) array can take color still images as large as 640 by 480 pixels at up to 24-bit color depth and provides higher frame rates than the original QuickCam: up to 15 frames per second (fps) at 320 by 240 resolution and 24 fps at 160 by 120 resolution (even faster on high-end Power Macs). Connectix engineers developed a new video compression technology to enable up to 16:1 real-time compression of the video stream being sent through the serial connection to the computer, so even mid-range Macs can handle video streams containing three times the raw data of similarly sized greyscale video images. Still, Connectix recommends a 68040-based Macintosh or a Power Macintosh for use with the Color QuickCam, since a slower computer may have trouble handling a color video stream.
Color-capable versions of the QuickPICT and QuickMovie utilities developed for the original QuickCam come with the Color QuickCam. The new QuickPICT, intended for taking still snapshots, includes a new Auto Capture feature that's useful for automatic updating of images on a Web page, security spot checks, or similar tasks. (Visit the Connectix Web site to see a color snapshot of the obligatory company fish tank, updated once a minute.)
QuickPICT also has a timed snapshot feature with visual and audible countdowns, and the ability to expose a still image for a user-selectable number of seconds. [QuickPICT is also scriptable, but just barely. -Geoff]
The QuickMovie utility, for recording video streams to disk, lets users set frame size and rates to optimize the video quality of the finished product. It stores video in QuickTime movie format, requiring between 1 and 2 MB of disk space for ten seconds of 160 by 120 video. The new version of QuickMovie offers digital effects such as image mirroring and flipping so users can change the video orientation while recording.
[The new versions of QuickPICT and QuickMovie appear to work with the original QuickCam, but there's no word on when (or how) Connectix might make the software available to current QuickCam owners. -Geoff]
Connectix says the new camera works well with their existing video software products, QuickCards and VideoPhone. QuickCards sells for around $30 and creates self-running multimedia presentations for use as floppy-based greeting cards. VideoPhone, about $60 by itself (also available as a bundle with an original QuickCam or a Color QuickCam), offers network videoconferencing for local network or Internet use. The software supports AppleTalk and TCP/IP protocols, and unlike Cornell University's free CU-SeeMe utility (or White Pine's new commercial version of the same program), has broadcast capability without the need for a Unix server. Both VideoPhone and White Pine's Enhanced CU-SeeMe have a white board feature for collaboration.
The Color QuickCam lacks audio capture. Connectix included a microphone in the original QuickCam so even users of fairly low-end Macs could produce QuickTime movies complete with sound, but adding additional audio data to the Color QuickCam's serial stream impeded the smooth flow of video. Since most current Macintosh models have built-in or included microphones (or at least microphone ports), Connectix decided not to compromise video quality to provide separate audio input.
As with the original QuickCam, the Color QuickCam is available for Macintosh first. A Windows version should be ready in about a month; happily we Mac users needn't wait.
Connectix -- 800/950-5880 -- 415/571-5100 -- 415/571-5195 (fax)