From the Kenosha News on 11-20-05

     See far-away family with a web cam

     If you have family or friends who live far away, using a web cam can let you not only communicate with but even see the people at the other end. A web cam is a small, inexpensive video camera that sits on top of your computer and connects to the USB port. There is no tape or film to capture images. Instead, it passes the video it captures along to the computer, which in turn can pass it along over the internet to someone at a distance. You'll need a broadband connection – like cable or DSL – to use a web cam since it takes up more bandwidth that you'll have with a dial-up connection.

     You can purchase a web cam at a local electronics store or on-line for about $50. I purchased mine locally at Best Buy and then ordered one for my brother in New York from bestbuy.com. I opted to get the same model by Creative so that we could both go through the same installation process. Since Win98 doesn't support USB devices well, I recommend that using either Windows XP or MacOSX with your web cam. (If you use Mac, make sure that MacOS drivers are included or available on the manufacturer's web site.) Along with the camera itself, you'll need a microphone and speakers or a headset that includes both so that you can speak to and hear the people at the other end. The built-in mic and speakers on a laptop may or may not work satisfactorily.

     Once you plug the web cam into a USB port, your computer will detect the new hardware and prompt you to load the drivers, which should be on the CD included with the camera. There may also be videoconferencing software included with the camera, but that's optional. Plug in your mic and speakers (or headset) to the appropriate jacks on your computer. If you have problems installing or operating the camera, contact the manufacturer's tech support or look for an FAQ (frequently asked questions) on their web site.

     I've found AOL Instant Messenger to be the easiest way to do simple videoconferencing over the internet. Launch your instant messenger application. Double-click on the name of a buddy who also has a web cam. Once the chat window opens, click on the Video button just below the area where you would normally type your chat text. After a brief wait, you should see your own image in a box at the right. Once connected to your buddy, you'll see their image in another box at the right. Now you can start talking!

     If you live far away from family and friends and wish you could see them more often, web cams offer an inexpensive way to see and speak with them, not just chat! You may want to send your distant buddies a web cam as a Christmas gift.

     You can access previous articles from my column on my web site at www.sabbarpublications.com.

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 11-20-05