Web Broadcasting Made Simple

Web cameras are easier to use than you might think

For many people, talking to someone online — and watching a live broadcast of them on a computer monitor — is something that belongs in futuristic movies. While they might know it's technologically feasible, they figure Web broadcasting is either too expensive or too confusing.

Anyone who has these assumptions is wrong on both counts.

The future is now

A good Web camera costs as little as $80. What's more, setting it up is so basic that a Web camera is considered virtually "plug–and–play". There's not much more to installation than plugging it into your computer.

Other than the purchase of the camera, the only other cost associated with Web broadcasting is the Internet access fee you have to pay to be online in the first place. (Web broadcasting doesn't make your Internet access fees any higher.)

The basics

You can use a Web camera to conduct online meetings, interviews, and sales pitches. You can also use it to keep in closer touch with loved ones. Here's a review of the equipment you'll need to start.

What you need Keep in mind Importance
Web camera (or a digital camera with a PC camera feature) Look for a model with a built–in microphone. Required
USB cable Make sure your computer has a USB port. Required
Instant messaging software Download it for FREE at MSN, Yahoo, or AOL.com. Some cameras include it for convenience. Required
DSL, cable, or satellite Internet access Check availability in your area Strongly recommended
Speakers (if your computer doesn't already have them) Some computers may not have speakers. You need either speakers or a headset to hear people communicating/talking to you. Recommended, but not necessary. You can see a Web broadcast without hearing it.

You only need to log onto your instant messaging service to start communicating and talking with other people. No special Internet sites are required. If someone wants to initiate a broadcast, you'll receive notification as long as you're logged on to instant messaging.

Why broadband access?

You can broadcast over the Internet using dial–up access, but the image that comes through will be slower to load and blurry whenever the subject of the broadcast moves.

What about the recipient?

Many people wonder if both parties in a Web broadcast need a Web camera. The answer is no. Here's an example of the popular usage combinations that are available:

  • One–way: In this arrangement, only one person in the broadcasting exchange has a Web camera. You only need a Web camera to broadcast an image of yourself, but not to receive an image. The person without the Web camera can use instant messaging software to write responses, or can even use a microphone on their computer to send voice responses.

  • Two–way: In this instance, both people have a Web camera with a built–in microphone, or a computer with a built–in microphone.

  • Two–way with phone or keyboard: Another option is to share images, but then exchange comments by typing on a keyboard or speaking on a phone.

  • Multiple way: You can open as many as twenty broadcasting windows on your computer monitor as once. You can see up to 20 other people at once, but you can only hear one other person at once.

Important features

Frames per second (fps): The rate of image broadcasting. While almost all cameras can handle a full–speed broadcasting rate, some instant messaging programs allow for a maximum rate of 7 frames per second. 7 fps is a little choppy. 14–15 fps is almost full–motion, and is supported by the newest (and still free) instant messenger program from MSN.com.

Pan/Tilt/Zoom: Web cameras with this feature allow you to control camera movement and zoom with your mouse.

Face tracking: Higher–end cameras track you as you move — so you don't have to sit still during the broadcast.

VGA sensor: Web cameras with a Video Graphics Array sensor will produce a higher–quality image.

CCD sensor: Higher–end Web cameras will come with a CCD sensor, which broadcasts images even if they're in poorly lit rooms.

Pixels: The more pixels a Web camera supports, the better. Look for a camera with a pixel resolution of at least 320 x 240.

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