Video, Still Images on the Cheap

SAN FRANCISCO (07/05/2000) - Adding a video camera to your USB Mac for Internet videoconferencing and quick image snapping is quite easy-and with the USB interface's cross-platform compatibility, you have more Mac video cameras to choose from than ever. Macworld Lab looked at two recent contenders, 3Com Corp.'s HomeConnect USB and iRez's Kritter USB. Both offer the painless setup we've come to expect from USB devices, but they're quite different when it comes to image quality.

Initial setup is simple: just install the included drivers (or download them, in the case of the HomeConnect) and the capture software. Restart your Mac, plug in your USB camera, and you're ready to start filming.

Once the cameras were set up, we noticed qualitative differences. The Kritter's video was superior to the HomeConnect's-smooth, with no dropped frames-but the image was dark, like a bad videotape copy. However, changing its settings to capture smooth video at various levels, from 16-bit grayscale to millions of colors, was easy.

The HomeConnect excelled in overall image quality, but the prerelease Mac software we downloaded from 3Com's Web site (the camera comes with Windows software only) was buggy, and we had a devil of a time making movies with it.

Although we tried many of the included compression settings, the video always looked jerky and suffered from dropped frames. If you're willing to buy different video-capture or videoconferencing software and download just the HomeConnect's drivers, you'll get better video and still images. We had good results using the HomeConnect in conjunction with the $199 Sorenson Broadcaster, the US$100 ClearPhonePPC, the $15 BTV 3.2.6, and the $149 SiteCam 5.0. (The Kritter is also compatible with all of these packages, but they don't yield better output than the camera's own software.)The HomeConnect's still-image quality was significantly better than the Kritter's, even when the camera was set to capture and display 640 by 480 pixels. And even after we made several adjustments to the Kritter, its images still didn't look as sharp. It also tended to warp images at the corners, giving them a fish-eye appearance.

Macworld's Buying Advice If you need to make quick movies for sending to friends and family by e-mail, the Kritter USB is an acceptable choice. If full-motion video is not a major issue, the HomeConnect USB offers better still-image quality.

HomeConnect USB

RATING: 3.0 mice

PROS: Great still-image quality.

CONS: Mac software must be downloaded and is buggy; requires other cam software for better performance.

COMPANY: 3Com (800/638-3266, http://www.3com.com).

LIST PRICE: $190.

Kritter USB

RATING: 3.5 mice

PROS: Smooth video; software included; inexpensive.

CONS: Poor image quality; lots of noise.

COMPANY: iRez (480/ 922-0044, http://www.irez.com).

LIST PRICE: $130.

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