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Zoom Telephonics ZoomCam-ISA Videoconference Camera
Last updated 2/4/99

If you are looking for a low-cost camera to  videoconference on the Internet, setup a videophone, or send video E-mail, the Zoom ZoomCam-ISA does the job for a current street price of about $55.00.  That's cheap. So, what do you get and how good does it work?

First, the picture isn't great and it's  jumpy.  Wait!  That's the nature of Internet videoconferencing.  It does work... Even with a so so picture  and jerky movement, the experience of seeing and talking with whom you are trying to communicate can be quite profound.   For example, trouble-shooting a remote computer problem can be immensely aided with live video and audio.  Seeing and hearing a loved one thousands of miles away can certainly warm your heart a lot more than E-mail.

SOME BACKGROUND on videoconferencing on the Internet...  The internet is bandwidth-limited.  That is, how fast your connection, or the receiving PC's connection is to the Internet, or the slowest segment of the Internet between the PCs at each end of a videoconference.   It is quite slow compared to your cable TV--in kilo bits per second versus up to mega bits per second (or mega Hertz).

The amount of information being transferred in a videoconference is mainly measured by the size/resolution of the pictures (lines x pixels/line) and the number of frames per second (FPS).  A frame is a picture and a sequence of frames make a picture move. A pixel is the smallest spot on your screen--a square dot.  The size/resolution of a picture on your monitor translates to pixels X pixels.    If you increase the number of pixels--information--in a picture, then you can send only so many pictures per second over a pipe with a limited speed.  Typically, you can send and receive about 8-12 FPS over the Internet as compared to 24 FPS you see on an NTSC (American standard) TV set and there about for other analog TV standards.   In short, the quality of Internet videoconferencing is a tradeoff between picture quality and speed which is dictated by communications limitations and, usually, not by camera quality.

The two International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standards come into play in PC videoconferencing.  The H.323 standard for videoconferencing over computer networks, such as the Internet, and H.324 standard for video conferencing over standard telephones (videophones). These standards specify three picture quality standards or Common Interchange Formats (CIF) as follows:

FORMAT PIXELS
SQCIF 128X96
QCIF 176X144
CIF 352X288

QCIF (Quarter CIF) and CIF formats are the most popular sizes on the Internet.    So if you are looking for a cheap camera for videoconferencing, this one, with QCIF and CIF resolutions and a 15 FPS frame rate capability, will certainly do the job and do it quite well.  If you are looking for higher quality video to include in your Web site, etc. save your money (lots of it) and buy a digital camera.

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Copyright, Disclaimer, and Trademark Information Copyright © 1996-2006 Larry F. Byard.  All rights reserved. This material or parts thereof may not be copied, published, put on the Internet, rewritten, or redistributed without explicit, written permission from the author.