Web Cameras That Offer More

Desktop cameras for sending images over the Internet come cheap these days--you can find a whole bunch for $50 to $100. But two new, higher-price USB camera systems--Creative Labs' $150 Video Blaster WebCam Go and X10.com's $130 XRay Vision Kit --justify their premium price tags by offering additional capabilities.

The WebCam Go earns its keep by doubling as an untethered digital camera. When not connected to a PC, this shirt-pocket­size camera runs on two standard AAA batteries (included) and has 4MB of internal RAM for storing up to 90 shots at 640 by 480 resolution (or 200 images at 320 by 240). It also includes an adjustable focus ring for close-up (within 6 inches), midrange, and infinity settings, plus a built-in LCD control panel for setting the timer or choosing the capture mode (single or multiple shots). But since the WebCam Go lacks a built-in flash, you'll get the best results using it in well-lit settings.

My production model was easy to install and use. The included software has simple tools for downloading images from the camera's memory, taking snapshots, and capturing video clips. The unit comes with the MediaRing Talk '99 Internet voice communication program, Microsoft NetMeeting videoconferencing software, and Polaroid's easy-to-use PhotoMax by ArcSoft image-editing tools. The WebCam Go produced both snapshot and video images that were bright and sharp, with reasonably good color.

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What distinguishes X10's XRay Vision Kit is its potential for security surveillance. A bundled wireless communication system lets the miniature camera transmit full-motion video to your PC from up to 100 feet away, even through walls. At one end is the thumb-size camera, which has a built-in 2.4-GHz wireless transmitter and comes with its own mounting bracket and screws (to mount it on a wall, for instance). At the other end, a USB cable connects a wireless receiver to your PC. The kit also includes AC power adapters required for both the transmitter and the receiver.

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Using the XRay Vision software (available for download from X10's Web site), you can remotely view camera images live over the Internet. You can also automatically capture and store images on your hard drive at preset intervals that range from every few seconds to every few hours.

It took me quite a while to set up a shipping unit, but it eventually performed quite well. I placed the camera 75 feet from my PC (the entire length of my home) and got fairly good 640 by 480 images--adequate for monitoring security in a home or business. But despite the manual's claim that you can use the camera outdoors, the vendor recommends indoor use only.

The XRay Vision Kit is an affordable tool for security around remote locations. But for a good Web camera you can take on the road, the WebCam Go gets my vote.

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