Using a webcam is pretty easy these days. There are apps that will set up a private stream from your home to your phone, and online services that let you broadcast to the world.
Choose a Webcam
One company in particular comes to mind when choosing a webcam: Logitech. I’m sure others like Creative Labs and D-Link all make good products, but every office I’ve ever worked in has used Logitech. It’s also the only brand I’ve ever personally owned, so I’ll stick to writing about what I know.
I’ve been using two Logitech C310’s for the past year to keep an eye on my dog while I’m at work. I didn’t need anything fancy, so the C310’s get the job done. They’re small, have a built-in mic, are capable of 720p HD video, and work right out of the box with my Mac over USB. Oh, and at $29.99 they’re cheap.
Most of the manufacturers have a similar product line. There are affordable, bare-bones cameras like mine, mid-range cameras with better image and audio quality, and very expensive models with premium options like wireless connectivity. Here are a few things to consider:
- How much can you spend? Models range from tens to hundreds of dollars.
- Where do you want to use the camera? Can you get away with any USB model, do you want one with a long cord, or do you need it to be wireless?
- Should it have a built-in microphone?
- What kind of resolution is necessary (these days almost every model will be at least 720p).
- Will you need some kind of stand or clip to fix the camera in place?
When it comes to buying any electronics, I tell people to consider everything they want in a device along with what they can afford. Remember that if you sacrifice features in order to get the cheapest option, you might end up getting the better model later, costing yourself even more.
Connect the Camera
Years ago we had to deal with terrible software and incompatible drivers, but setting up a webcam today is usually painless. Most cameras come with a CD or DVD of the software you need, and updates are posted on the manufacturer’s site. Even better, modern operating systems are so advanced that some cameras will just work out of the box. Try two things:
- Plug it in and see if a program like Photo Booth or the Windows 8 Camera app can find it.
- If not, run whatever software installer came with the camera.
Once the camera is working, the question is: what do you want to do?
Watch on Your Phone
I use iCam by SKJM to check my webcam on my phone. There are only two steps to setting things up:
- Install the iCam app on your smartphone. There’s an iOS version and an Android version.
- Install iCamSource (Desktop) on your Mac.
The desktop software asks you for two things: choose your webcamera from the audio & video source dropdowns, then enter a username and password for your stream. These are the same credentials you’ll enter to access your webcam in the mobile app. Load it up on your phone or tablet, and you’re good to go.
Ustream supports the web, iOS, and Android. Basic accounts are ad-supported. Pro account members can password-protect their channel, and get access to things like HD broadcasting.
Justin.tv is also on the web, iOS, and Android. Basic broadcasting is free. Some high-traffic streams require paid accounts. Buying one comes with features like unlimited bandwidth and removal of ads.
Both services can be embedded in your website or blog. On Ustream, visit your channel, click share, then click the <> button to retrieve the embed code. If you’re a Justin.tv user, visit your stream, click the gear cog icon, and choose embed video. In both cases you’ll receive a block of HTML than can be pasted into your web page or blog post.
Streaming a webcam has become pretty easy as technology has advanced. Gone are the days when we had to wrestle with drivers, configure slow Java applets, or set up some program that uploads stills to an FTP site. Now we have polished mobile apps and huge web-based communities that have made setting up a webcamera a simple matter of plugging in the device and signing up for an account.