Apple's ISight: A Webcam and More
 
Software developers have made the ISight good for much more than just video chat.

Apple ISight

Macintosh developers are a curious, experimental lot. Give them a piece of hardware like Apple's ISight video camera and they let their imaginations run wild inventing novel ways to use it. The $149 ISight has great image quality and works seamlessly with OS X Macs, but the price seems pretty steep just for video chatting.

I went in search of alternative ways to use the ISight and found a wider variety of uses than I expected. Here are four of my favorites. All of them are fun--and all of them make the ISight investment pay off. With the exception of IStill, these programs work with other FireWire video cameras, such as typical digital camcorders.

Video Clips to Share

 


ICamShare's menu-driven interface makes it simple to capture video clips and compress them for Web or e-mail distribution.
 

Essentially the ISight is a very small video camera with a very simple interface--and Arbor Bits has created a companion video capture utility with those same qualities. ICamShare lets you record video clips and save them as movies or still photos. The extremely simple, menu-driven interface lets anyone record a clip or take a snapshot, then choose whether to e-mail it, post it to a.Mac home page, or save it to their Mac. The clips are saved as QuickTime files that can be played simply by double-clicking on them.

ICamShare is a natural for anyone who has an ISight and wants to keep in touch with family members. The trial version lets you record a couple of shots or clips before it starts putting watermarks on the images. But the program costs just $15 to register--a great investment to get more use out of the ISight.

Delightful Database

 

Create an inventory of your CDs, DVDs, and books with Delicious Library and a FireWire video camera like the ISight.

Want to inventory your CD collection without typing in all the vital statistics yourself? Delicious Library from Delicious Monster could be the answer. When you wave the bar code on your music CD case (or on your books, movie DVDs, or games) in front of the ISight, the video scanner in Delicious Library retrieves information from the Web about your title--including a thumbnail image of the cover and interesting tidbits such as what the title is selling for used. (It pulls this information from Amazon.com.) Delicious Monster sells a Bluetooth bar code scanner that works with the program.

Delicious Library can export your list of assets to your IPod, as well as track who you loaned your stuff to, by integrating with your Address Book and Calendar.

I tried a late beta of the software and noticed some minor glitches, like not being able to type in the Notes field. Still, it was a heck of a lot more fun to use than the typical collections database. I wish I could use it to inventory everything in my household. There's a trial version that lets you create a library with up to 25 items; it costs $40 to register.

Hand Jive

 

 


You raise and lower the plank with your arms to match up colored balls in ToySight.
 

ToySight is a collection of games that require you to move your hands and arms in front of the video camera to control the action. The Plank, for example, is a Tetris-style game in which you line up balls on a tilting bench by raising and lowering your arms. In The Owl and the Pussycat, you play the owl and flap your arms to fly through the game. There are also arcade-style games that involve throwing pies and firing missiles, and some toys that make your screen take on effects like distortion and hand glow.

It's pretty tricky to master the gestures well enough to control the games--I lost frequently, and found manipulating the menus by pointing particularly difficult. But having to stand up and move around makes these games far healthier than the typical computer game. It's not a workout, for sure; but it beats slumping in a chair and giving yourself RSI.

Capture Inspiration

 


Grab a quick (and maybe surreptitious) snap with IStill.
 

A small utility, Chilton Webb's $25 IStill 1.3, lets you capture still images with your ISight. You can use it to photograph drawings, notes, or a 3D object that you can't scan. It also has a simple menu of slider bars for adjusting brightness, focus, depth of field, and more. It's great for spur-of-the-moment snaps while you have the ISight on, though I had to experiment a while before my still lifes were sharp enough.

Using the ISight's desktop stand, or propping up the item you want to shoot, would be better than holding the video camera in hand, as I did. The quality of the JPEGs that IStill produces is surprisingly good.

 
 
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