Archive for November, 2009

How to Pick a Good Business Webcam (Part II of II)

Posted on November 23, 2009. Filed under: webcam | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Previously I introduced this series on selecting a webcam by briefly discussing Image Resolution, Motion, Features, Service Providers, and external vs. internal models. This second and final installment, built on the list of topics introduced previously in Part I, discusses webcam mounting types, microphones, unique properties of the Mac, conference room options, and sources to purchase your webcam. At the bottom is a list of recommended webcams based on our experiences at Vonei, and an online source where you can purchase them.

A friend of mine pointed out that internal webcams on laptops are convenient, but are usually lower quality and can break more frequently. Closing the laptop screen repeatedly could eventually result in a small crack in the lens or a sensor misalignment due to the shock. My friend’s daughter got a Lenovo for college and the camera was broken in 2-3 months. She uses her laptop quite a bit and opens and closes it frequently. She reported there is now a big black line right in the middle of the picture, a symptom of a cracked lens Having an external webcam is a good safety net as well as a means of getting a higher quality image and motion.

Mounting Types. Webcams are usually optimized for desktop computers or laptop computers. What’s the difference? Desktop computers are likely to need a webcam that accommodates sitting on a flat surface. Clip-on webcams are not as ideal for flat surfaces. Desktop computer CPUs are often placed on the floor. To plug in your USB webcam to the CPU, and have the webcam sitting in a position showing your face requires a long USB cable. If you have a desktop look for these two features. A laptop requires the opposite characteristics. A clip-on webcam is ideal, and the smaller the better for carrying the device while traveling. A laptop is ideal for a short USB cable. After all, who would want several feet of USB cable coiled on their desk when they only need a couple of feet length between the USB port and the top of the laptop screen?

Webcams with microphones. Webcams come with or without a microphone. After the past couple of years in testing webcams I’ve come to the conclusion that it is best to use a computer headset with microphone, and not the microphone in the webcam. Computers are inherently not good speaker phones, and sound from the computer speakers could enter the webcam microphone causing an echo effect. A headset places the “speakers” on the ears, and the microphone right in front of the mouth. A headset provides the best audio experience, making the webcam microphone a non-required feature.

Webcam fps. There are several factors which impact the frames per second produced by your webcam.  For a guide to these factors, a free fps test tool, and tips on how to  improve the fps on any webcam, see the webcam fps test site.

Mac webcams have unique characteristics. Macs are optimized for use with Apple’s services such as iChat. While they do a great job, it is inconvenient for video conferencing with people on PCs or Linux computers. The Macs will not release the webcam to other service applications unless you turn off webcam access to iChat, Photo Booth, and Skype. Also, Mac users need to select the USB webcam when they use their service. This is true even if the webcam is built-in. Why one has to select USB when the webcam is built-in is puzzling, but trust me, unless you do this the Mac webcam may not work on your video service.

Conference Rooms. Webcams are great when the users are sitting right in front of their computer. But what do you do in a large conference room with multiple people? A little known fact is that you can use a video camera, and some digital cameras, as a webcam. You will need a video capture cable to connect your computer to the video camera (source provided below). With a video camera you can mount in on a tripod on the conference room table and show everyone in the room. If the computer is plugged into a large screen monitor, or plugged into a projector and shown on the wall, everyone in the conference room can see the other parties. Plug in a USB speaker phone and you have a very low cost solution, avoiding a large investment in traditional video conferencing equipment.

Final thoughts before the recommendations. Lighting can play a major factor in the quality of the webcam image. Never sit with a window behind you, as the background light source will place your face in shadows. Having a desk lamp is very helpful in shining light on your face, improving both the image contrast and color. Another recommendation is to ensure that the webcam you purchase has been tested with the service provider you plan to use, and that the webcam works on your operating system. No one wants to purchase a webcam with good specifications and then find out it doesn’t work on Vista or has an interoperability issue.

Webcam recommendations and sources. After the past couple of years of experience with webcams I recommend the following units:

Brand Model Online Source Recent Price

Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 www.newegg.com $75.99

Logitech QuickCam Communication MP www.newegg.com $44.99

Vonei V8019 www.videointerviewkits.com $24.99

Video Capture Cable  www.videointerviewkits.com $24.99

I used to recommend the Microsoft LifeCam VX-3000 ($26.99 at newegg.com) until we had several users complain of interoperability with Flash video. I believe Microsoft placed a software patch on their website to fix this, so if you’re game for downloading software patches the Microsoft webcam may work well for you.  Overall Logitech makes a great lineup of quality webcams.

One service you should try with your new webcam is the free video mail service from http://mailVU.com.  You can record private video messages and send them to anyone in the world for free.  A great feature they offer is the self-destruct function where you can have your video deleted after x views or x days.  Give it a try.

Alan Fitzpatrick is the Co-founder of Vonei LLC which provides live video conferencing service across PCs, Macs, and Linux computers. VideoInterviewKits is an affiliate of Vonei LLC. Additional information about Vonei can be found on http://www.vonei.com.

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The Best $99 You Ever Spent for your Recruiting Business

Posted on November 17, 2009. Filed under: video interview | Tags: , |

Video interviewing is a great way to evaluate a job candidate remotely and lower the cost of recruiting. Many video conference systems are expensive to rent and can cost upwards of $150/hour. Fortunately desktop video conferencing can be used to video interview job candidates, and it can be done for less than $99/year, or $8.25/month. This low entry point makes video interviewing suitable for all recruiters.

Desktop video interviewing is performed right from your computer, whether it is PC, Mac, or Linux. A webcam is needed to show video, and documents such as resumes, application forms, and examples of work can be shared securely and directly right in the video interviewing service. By seeing the candidate you can pre-screen for communication skills, helping you find the right candidate faster.

 

Along with the low entry price point, desktop video interviewing lowers the risk in your investment. There are no hardware costs other than ensuring webcams are available. Most services require no software downloads for you or your candidate, and no set-up fees.

 

Try out video interviewing and save time and money in the recruiting process.

Vonei LLC is a provider of desktop video interviewing and video conferencing services. www.vonei.com.

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How to Pick a Good Business Webcam (Part I of II)

Posted on November 3, 2009. Filed under: webcam | Tags: , , , |

Video communication is advancing from business travelers calling home from the road, to desktop video conferencing, video email, and video interviewing. To take advantage of these applications you need a quality web camera. Most newer laptop computers and netbooks have built in webcams, while desktop do not. The companies I’ve spoken with have indicated the need to identify webcam requirements and have asked what models are best. This article will examine different facets of web cameras, with advice based on our experiences at Vonei.

Image Resolution is critical to a good business video experience. You certainly will not want a fuzzy image when conducting a video interview, or leaving a video email for a customer or prospect. The primary image factor to consider in your webcam is Megapixel resolution Just like a digital camera, the more megapixels the better. We’ve found that webcams with less than 1.3 Megapixels (1,280 pixels by 960 pixels) provide a low quality image. 2.0 Megapixels is better, and in general the higher rating the sharper the picture. At one point CCD cameras were considered superior to CMOS cameras, but after testing with both over the past 2 years I cannot say that one is superior to the other for Internet video applications. CMOS cameras are less expensive and will work fine.

Smoothness of Motion is determined by the Frames Per Second (fps) rating. A 30fps rating provides a smoother motion than 15fps, with less trailing of movement. 30fps is the North American television standard for video. A “talking” head doesn’t have a lot of motion, and 15fps will generally work fine. If you want to broadcast someone moving, say a person doing physical therapy, then the higher fps makes an improvement in the motion. We don’t recommend a camera with less than 15fps as motion delays become obvious. The best choice is to look for the full 30fps specification.  There are several factors which impact the frames per second produced by your webcam on v ideo chat sessions.  For a guide to these factors, a free fps test tool, and tips on how to  improve the fps on any webcam, see the webcam fps test site.

Features such as face-tracking and auto-focus have had mixed reviews. They both sound great on the surface, but if a person is moving around the constantly changing view on the webcam can be very annoying to the other users. For a “talking head” use of a webcam these features are generally not required. One feature I do like is the plug-n-play aspect of the USB 2.0 webcams. Eliminating the need to load software from a disk is a nice plus as it makes it easy to move the webcam between computers.

The service provider you use for your video communications has a major impact over your experience, and your web camera specs could very well exceed their capabilities. Most service providers will limit the data rate to 200-300kbps to accommodate DSL and Cable Modem upstream bandwidth limitations. The service provider selects the rate at which key frames are sent. (A keyframe in a video contains the entire image.) If a keyframe is sent every second when running your webcam at 15fps, the in-between 13 frames are difference frames. The best thing to do is purchase a webcam that meets the pixel and fps specs recommended above, and then try the webcam on various services. You may very well see image quality and motion smoothness differences between providers.

Internal versus External webcams. Internal webcams are great for ease of use, and since they are located at the top center of the screen they give the appearance of looking right into the camera. I wouldn’t buy a laptop without a built-in webcam due to this convenience. However, the built-in models are typically minimum acceptable quality. They are fine for most applications, but not as good as external webcams with better specifications. I like the external webcams (such as Logitech) with the specifications recommended above, and frequently clip one on the top center of my laptop screen right above the built-in webcam. It is a simple matter of selecting this second webcam in the video service you are using. External webcams have the drawback of having an extra device to carry with you, but the benefit of better video has been worth it for me. Of course for desktop computers the external webcam is the only option. Just be sure to place the external webcam as close as possible to the center of your monitor screen so you are seen as looking “into the camera”.

In Part II of this article we will discuss webcam mounting types, microphones, unique properties of the iMac, conference room options, and sources to purchase your webcam.

Alan Fitzpatrick is the Co-founder of Vonei LLC which provides live video conferencing service across PCs, Macs, and Linux computers. Additional information about Vonei can be found on http://www.vonei.com.

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