5 Things You Can Do With Your Webcam

The multimedia aspect of computing has taken off like never before. Online video has taken off thanks to the spread of broadband internet access and sites like Youtube. People are now communicating visually over the internet. Webcams play an important role in this whole thing. If you have a webcam, you have a tool which allows you to put your own video up on the internet or simply to chat with friends and family.

On that note, I thought I would outline a list of things you can do with your webcam. Considering what you can do with it, they are a good buy. Most webcams range anywhere from around $50 to up to $100. I have two Microsoft webcams for my desktop machines. My notebook computer has one built right into the top of the screen. They really are everywhere. So, what can you use it for? Let’s take a look.

Video Phone

Microsoft VX6000 WebcamThe idea of video phone used to be one of those futuristic concepts in the “someday” department. Today, using the internet, video phone is commonplace. Most instant messaging clients today support video in one way or the other. Personally, my favorite is Skype. With Skype, you just download and install a free program, search for your friends on the Skype network, add them as contacts, and then you can talk to them whenever you want. At it’s core, Skype is more like a phone. You talk to people using the microphone on your PC and you hear the other person over your speakers. Once you begin a call, though, you can start up your webcam and allow the other person to see you (and vice versa if they have a webcam).

Setting up the webcam with Skype is easy and works most of the time. I say “most of the time” because I used to have a weird problem with everything looking green and scrambled – kinda like watching pay-per-view without the unscrambling. I still do not know why that was happening, but since I upgraded to Windows Vista, everything works fine.

Home/Office Monitoring

Sometimes you may want to be able to monitor your office or home when you are not there. Webcams are your ticket to paradise. When it comes to monitoring, you will find that there are many more expensive webcam options available. The difference, usually, between those more expensive webcams and the smaller ones for your desktop computer is that the larger webcams probably have a web server built into them. That means the webcam is internet-enabled with it’s own IP address. Once connected to your network, you can directly access the webcam and view what it sees over the internet. Essentially, then, the webcam is a mini-computer with a lens.

You don’t need a expensive, server-enabled webcam to do home monitoring. You can use one of the cheaper, USB cameras and use your own computer as the server.

Live Streaming

These days it is VERY easy to live stream from your webcam to the internet. The popularity of it is also increasing due to several web-based services which turn it into child’s play. Chris Pirillo, of Lockergnome and TechTV fame, has almost totally changed the way he brings content to the web now. He uses live streaming video almost 24/7 and he then posts recordings of relevant portions to Youtube and several other video sites. Justin.TV is another pretty popular live webcam streaming site.

Now, Chris Pirillo is not using a small USB webcam for his primary footage. But, you can. And he does use a service that anybody can use: Ustream. Ustream makes bringing live video to the web really easy. Browsing around Ustream shows that most of the “shows” are really stupid and boring. A few, though, offer real shows that are entertaining and useful. To use Ustream, all you need is the Flash plug-in installed to your web browser. It doesn’t get easier. Stickam is another similar service to Ustream.

By the way, a poor man’s way to do room monitoring could be to use your cheap webcam in conjunction with Ustream. It will work.

Recording Videos

Perhaps you simply want to get some footage of yourself and record it for something else. For example, using Camtasia Studio, you can record your screen and create presentations. Camtasia, though, also has the ability to bringing in footage from your webcam so that you can create a picture-in-picture effect in your final video. Using Windows Movie Maker, you can also record direct from your webcam and make a video out of it suitable for posting to sites like Youtube. Unfortunately, you have to use Windows Movie Maker under Windows XP. WMM under Vista has gotten rid of this feature…something Microsoft really dropped the ball on.

Video Email

Video email is not something that is quite there. Sure, you can probably email video file attachments around, but that is tedious. Fortunately, if you take the whole traditional email thing out of the equation and make it all web-based, it gets easier. Enter Eyejot. Eyejot is a free video mail service. You set up an account and you can send video messages back and forth with people. It interfaces with your webcam using the Flash plug-in, just like Ustream. The only hitch to this whole thing is that one has to log into their Eyejot profile in order to view messages. You will, however, get an email notification of a new Eyejot message so you’re not left guessing.

Show Your Mug

So, yes, if you don’t mind having your mug shot in full motion going out across the internet, there are many cool ways to use your webcam.

Comments

  1. I use my web-cam as a security camera for my home. It has a program called Active-Webcam on it, which has motion detector, and when it detect motion it records 5 minutes footage as a video clip on my hard drive, emails me to let me know its detected motion and sends 3 still photos so i can see what caused it and you can also get it to ftp the video to a webspace you have so that if a thief takes your computer you still have copy of evidence. It came up trumps once when landlord was doing inspection and i saw him on video having a bit of a snoop at things he shouldnt be seeing. But sometimes it would alert me of motion just because the sun went behind a cloud and the colour of a wall changed! still with a bit of tweaking this can be a good use, like the monitoring above but not steaming all the time.

  2. David – thanks for covering Eyejot. Good news – it now works on your iPhone and other mobile devices too. So, you don’t have to rely upon email all the time. Just visit http://m.eyejot.com to try it out. Requirements are that your mobile device have a decent HTML browser and support MP4 or 3GP video formats. Blackberry Pearl and Curves fit into this category and many other phones – including almost all the Windows mobile devices. Additionally, Eyejot has a widget that you can embed in your blogs so visitors can easily leave you video comments and messages. And, it also works with iTunes, so you can watch your video email on your iPod.

  3. Hi David, I know I’m late to the comments on this one. But if you are still looking for even more things to do with your web cam, you may want to check out:

    http://www.bubblejoy.com

    Having just launched, it let’s people send free video greeting cards to friends and family with their web cams for.

    The video cards are really quite unique and fun and it just launched so a few things are still being worked on, but that said, it’s pretty solid overall and I’d welcome any feedback you might have on it.

    So check it out if you get the chance and take care for now.

  4. I don’t think I could live without my webcam. Videos are my life, man!!

  5. natasha murphy says:

    i have a built in web camera on my lap top, but dont know how to use it. i want to take pictures of my daughter can you help??

    • Name (required) says:

      Sure just type in Webcam on your search bar in the start menu either on vista or windows 7, then the program will appear use the program to manipulate the camera. If you have xp then you need the software to use it. Have fun.

  6. I am a teacher and would like my students to be able to view and communicate with other students in their classroom from other countries. How can I do this?

  7. I also have a web cam on my lap top. I’m running Windows 7 , but I can’t make it work. I can see the device, and I am told by the pc that it is working and the driver is up to date. I managed to do a short video to set up my skype, but other than that I don’t see how to use or start up the web cam. I did have Vista on this laptop, but couldn’t get along with it, so went to W7. I could make the camera work when I had Vista.

  8. chahavirem says:

    I love seeing my friends in my webcab, my question is, does anybody could see us too and can they record it automarically and put it on you tube. In other word using webcam is “safe”? Please le me know thanks

  9. Is there a program that will begin recording when the webcam is in use? I don’t necessarily want a surveillance video so much as an activity recorder. I want to know what my kids are viewing and what they’re sending.

  10. That was useable info. I will subscribe for this site, it's very functional.

  11. http://www.sillywebcam.com has some fun and games online for webcam, nothing needs to be installed, uses Flash to snap pics.

  12. Thanks for this information.

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