The lowdown on webcams

What are they? Webcams capture digital video for transmission over the Internet. The models included in this guide include tiny, inexpensive devices that attach to PCs as well as network cameras that can stand alone, have their own operating systems and Web server software, and can be controlled via a browser. They all adhere to IP.

How do they connect? Most models connect by either Universal Serial Bus or IEEE 1394 FireWire connections, though some of them connect to Ethernet, PC Card and serial ports.

What are their uses? PC webcams are best used individually for desktop videoconferencing and e-mail video. Network cameras are better for security applications. Video instant messaging is another emerging use, but that can create bandwidth headaches.

Price? PC webcams typically cost less than $80. Most network cameras run in the hundreds, with a few'featuring higher resolutions and fast frame-per-second ratings'priced at more than $1,000.

Must-know info? The appeal of webcams is their utility. They typically are easy to set up and administer, and they provide good functionality for small-scale videoconferencing and surveillance. But don't expect high-quality video. Maximum resolutions are low and get lower when you increase the frames-per-second speed of a transmission. Image quality is improving, but slowly.

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