Panasonic hatches versatile PC video camera

Pros and cons:
+ Excellent color balance
+ Accurate video e-mail and videoconferencing
+ Almost no motion blur – Built-in mike a bit weak


Real-life requirements:
Windows 95, one open PCI slot for video-capture card, sound card, CD-ROM drive,
2M video memory


Panasonic’s EggCam doesn’t crack under pressure.


Combined with the included PCI video-capture card, the charge-coupled-device digital
video camera makes it easy and cheap to videoconference from a PC over an office LAN or
the Internet.


Setting up EggCam was a somewhat convoluted process but not too difficult. You attach
wires for the video-capture card, the PC’s sound card and the camera’s power
supply. One cable was color-coded, but the others weren’t. After you get all three
wires in the right places, EggCam’s ready to go.


It captures colors well at nearly any light level. It’s best in bright light but
good in dimmer settings, too. Considering that the camera was only two inches tall, it did
quite a good job.


EggCam can tap into PC memory, which must be at least 32M. Using the extra processing
power, the camera captured motion with hardly any blur—something at which most
computer cameras fail miserably.


The 4.6-mm lens can focus on images as close as 100 mm. I placed objects directly
against the lens and recorded them with no problem. EggCam records at 320 lines of
horizontal resolution and does automatic white balancing, which explains the awesome color
density without user interaction.


The included videoconferencing software is nearly equal in quality to professional
videoconferencing systems that cost thousands of dollars.


EggCam worked fine for videoconferencing over the GCN Lab’s network, but I had
some bandwidth trouble connecting to another camera over the Internet.


At peak, EggCam can record up to 30 frames per second, though many of them get dropped
following an Internet transmission.


The one negative about EggCam is its built-in microphone.


The mike could record in a full circle around the camera, but subjects, unless they
were very close, had to speak loudly for it to pick them up. Beyond three feet, it lost
crystal-clear audio.


EggCam can capture still images at 640- by 480-pixel resolution and send video e-mail.
When the video e-mail program is activated, the camera sets itself up to record messages.
The messages link to the PC’s e-mail program and attach .exe files for delivery.


Along with each video e-mail, the EggCam software sends a little 50K viewer,
eliminating the need for special equipment, other than sound and video cards, on the
recipient’s computer.


Because the camera is so accurate, video e-mail works well. Users can gesture to charts
or diagrams as they talk, and the text and graphics will record accurately under normal
lighting.


Caution: Video e-mail messages are large enough to clog a recipient’s mail server.
For instance, a four-minute video e-mail takes up more than 17M of storage, which will
trip up most servers.


A less verbose message of 30 seconds takes about 2M and downloads much faster over a
standard Internet connection. Video e-mail works best over an internal LAN. If you have a
LAN, you might just as well use the videoconferencing features.


Managers who want to set up inexpensive videoconferencing for their offices or attach
their photos to e-mail will find EggCam a trusty tool.


Psst, don’t tell the boss: EggCam is a heck of a lot of fun, too.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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