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A WebCam, or Web Camera is a video camera that is used to capture real time video images and pass them via a computer to a computer network. The most popular use for a webcam is to set up video conferencing across the Internet amongst friends and family. A lot of modern Notebooks or Laptops come with a web camera already built-in.
This type of network camera is distinct from a network video surveillance device that is used to provide real time images that can be monitored for security purposes. These type of video cameras tend to be more expensive because they have a number of features for playback and storage, and often have to be protected against the weather.
The webcam was first developed within Cambridge university in 1991 in the Science department, with the purpose of allowing lecturers and graduates to view the Trojan Room Coffee Pot, and determine how busy it was before going to order coffee. It wasn’t long before the first commercial devices were ready for the market and eventually Logitech became the biggest producer of webcams.
With the proliferation of instant messaging and Voice over IP (VoIP), many millions of people with connections to the Internet want to communicate with friends and relatives worldwide. Skype has become on of the most popular multimedia Internet communications systems on the Internet, and it all started with simple telephony, but now has added features such as video and chat. So now you can talk to your friends worldwide and view a live image of them as you do so provided you have some kind of web camera attached to your PC.
Most webcams comprise a camera lens and an image sensor, rather like a standard digital camera, with a lot of webcams now having a built-in microphone. The cheaper models come with a decent quality fixed focus lens to ensure a good quality image. Most commercial low-cost web cameras incorporate a CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) image sensor which converts light energy into a voltage, which is then converted to some digital format. CMOS image sensors are fairly cheap to manufacture, hence the reason they have become popular in webcam technology. The alternative is to use a CCD (Charge Coupled Device), but these tend to be a little more expensive to manufacture and the image quality is very similar for both devices.
Most webcams are connected to a computer by means of a USB cable, unless otherwise integrated with the computer, but this is mainly with recent Notebooks and Laptops. A development known as the USB Video Device Class, or UVC for short, allows webcams to be integrated with computers, and usually doesn’t require the use of specific vendor specific device drivers. All the major operating systems such as Windows, Linux and Mac OS support this UVC standard. All this makes it easy for a user with no technical knowledge to install and run a webcam quickly and efficiently.
As well as using a webcam for simple communications, many people today also use them to produce low-cost video images for use on social websites such as YouTube. Another area where they are used extensively is online dating sites where men and women can view potential dates rather than just rely on still photographs.
It is important to note that images passed from webcams via computers are utilising some form of computer application, and all computer applications are subject to attack from hackers and mischief makers, particularly on the Internet. For this reason security is just as important for your Webcam application as it is for others such as email and other forms of file transfer. Hackers can use a variety of methods such as Trojan Horse Viruses to activate a webcam, so it is very important to make sure your Internet Security programs are up to date. If you purchase a webcam, then a useful feature to look for are LED indicators, to let you know when the device is live. This will warn you to switch off your webcam when not in use and also warn you when a webcam may be been remotely switched on by a hacker. Webcams are just as safe as any other computer device if you follow the security rules and always keep your anti spyware and anti virus software up to date.
A web camera is generally a low cost device and there are many outlets where you can purchase one of these devices. Many are purchased directly from online Internet retailers and I would recommend doing a little research before purchasing to ensure you are getting the right device, not just in terms of performance, but also in terms of additional features and methods used to attach the physical device to an existing computer or desk. Although most webcams are attached via USB cables, there are many now that allow connection via WiFi or Bluetooth too.