iChat and USB cameras

Apple’s iChat AV allows you to make video calls. I often have problems because I’m usually behind firewalls but when it works, it’s very good. And most Apple machines have built-in cameras which make it a low-hassle process.

For those who have Macs without a camera, however, there’s more of a problem, because Apple’s (excellent if pricey) Firewire iSight camera was discontinued a little while ago, and iChat didn’t support anything other than Firewire inputs. So what do you do if you have a Mac Mini? Or an older Mac without a camera? It’s hard to find Firewire cameras these days, and using a camcorder is a bit messy.

Well, the good news is that, as of the 10.4.9 Mac OS X update, USB cameras are supported, at least if they’re recent ones and conform to the standard USB 2.0 video protocols. The Xbox Live Vision Camera is confirmed to work, and I’ve just ordered a used one from eBay to try out.

(Other USB cams have been and are supported if you install third-party drivers, but drivers are not normally something that Mac users have to bother with, so we get out of the habit and view them with slight suspicion…)

-23 Comments

True–while I have an iSight, it was a bit too big for my application (mounting it on a jeweler’s visor pointing at my eye for documenting some eye gaze experiments). Ordered two of the Xbox Live Vision Cameras (in case I broke one), and they work on the Mac without any drivers (they support the USB Video Device Class or UVC). However, to do video *capture*, as far as I can tell, you still need to either upgrade Quicktime or use some third party driver to allow iMovie to talk to the device. (Which doesn’t make sense to me–didn’t I read that the built-in cameras on Macs are USB? What am I missing?)
Good video quality. No audio. And cheap, at least in the states. Under US$30.
With some disassembly, it was possible to remove the stops on the lens rotation to get much closer focus, and the lens has a fairly standard 12mm x 0.5mm “board camera” type thread, though I needed to make an extension to use the longer focal length lens I replaced it with. So, somewhat hackable, if you need a “expendable” camera for a special application.

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