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(Multiplatform) ROUNDUP & TUTORIAL: Web Camera Applications

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Not all notebooks or desktop computers have a built-in web camera. With desktop PC’s, this isn’t that big an issue: as you don’t carry them around, you can just buy an inexpensive, clip-on USB camera and you’re set. Not so with notebooks, UMPC’s or Tablet PC’s – with them, purchasing (and carrying!) a cabled solution might be overly suboptimal. Then, just using your camera-equipped smartphone may turn out to be the best solution; preferably over a wireless connection like Bluetooth. This way, you can avoid having to carry around a separate webcamera. It’s indeed big help!

Setting them up is exactly the same as with setting up traditional USB cameras. This means they’re really easy to use. In general, you just run the installer EXE file on the desktop you’d like to use your phone connected to. Some of the desktop-side (let’s call them server) apps ask for being started at boot-up time. If you aren’t afraid of the additional memory (and possible CPU) use, you can safely allow this; if you are, just untick the checkbox.

1.1 Starting the server on the desktop

After this, whenever you want to use your phone as your webcamera, start the given server on your desktop. That is, start (in the order of discussion), in Start/Programs, start

WebCamera Plus/ WebCamera Plus

Mobiola Web Camera for Windows Mobile / Mobiola Web Camera for Windows Mobile

Mobiola Web Camera for S60 / Mobiola Web Camera for S60

wwigo/ wwigo

SmartCam/Smartcam

After this, most of the apps start waiting and you can directly start the client on your phone and initiate the connection. The exceptions are:

* Mobiola Web Camera for S60, where you may also need to set the connection method:

mobiolas60connmethod.png

Note that these radio buttons are completely missing from the Windows Mobile version as it supports fewer ways of connection

* Wwigo, where you need to click the leftmost button, "wwigo video" for the server to be able to receive connection requests:

wwigovifrobutton.png

If you plan to connect via USB cable (and not some kind of wireless connection), you’ll also need to connect and wait for ActiveSync (Windows Mobile) or Nokia PC Suite (S60) to be activated. (This also means that, on S60 phones, you’ll need to select the standard suite transfer mode.)

1.2 Starting the client on the phone

On the phone (the client), you will need to do the following in order to start the connection (in the order of further discussion; first, Windows Mobile titles and, then, Symbian ones):

1.2.1 Windows Mobile

1.2.1.1 WebCamera Plus

In Menu / Source, switch to Front Sensor if you want to use the front camera as your camera. Otherwise, use Camera to switch to the back camera. It’s also here that you can en/disable sound capture (using which isn’t recommended if you already have a mike built-in into your desktop because, at least in my case, the transferred sound was much choppier than with using the built-in mike of my TC1100):

webcamsourceselect.jpg

In Menu / Settings / Camera, you can set a lot of goodies like saturation, rotation, mirror, resolution, quality:

webcamcamsettings.jpg

If you plan to use WebCamera Plus via USB or Bluetooth (both via an active ActiveSync, previusly-started connection), there isn’t anything else to do – just click Start. If, on the other hand, you use a wireless TCP/IP connection (either BT PAN – if your phone supports it at all –, Wi-Fi p2p or even long-distance TCP/IP connections like GPRS), you will need to set the (local network) IP address of your desktop. You can do this in Menu / Settings / Network:

webcamipentry.jpg

1.2.1.2 Mobiola Web Camera for Windows Mobile

Start the server and, then, the client. Go to Menu / Connect / ActiveSync to connect via either USB or Bluetooth or Menu / Connect / Wi-Fi if connecting via a Wi-Fi p2p network:

mobwmconnect.jpg

1.2.2 Symbian

1.2.2.1 Mobiola Web Camera for S60

After starting the server (and selecting the connection method in it), start the client (after connecting it to USB and waiting for Nokia PC Suite to be activated if you want to go the cabled route) and go to Options / Connect. There, select the connection method (which, again, must match the desktop setting):

mobiolaconnselector.jpg

When connecting via Bluetooth, you’ll be offered the standard Bluetooth device selection screen:

mobiolaBTselector.jpg

Note that you’ll also need to use the left/right cursor keys to switch between front/back cameras (and screens, if you want to transfer your screen content only).

1.2.2.2 WWigo

Start the server (and click leftmost "wwigo video" button). On the client, you can, as is explained HERE, safely cancel the initial access point request screen (which would only download ads to be displayed) with a right softkey (cancel). Then, go to Options / Settings and select Camera1 if you want to use the front (and not the back) camera:

wwigocameraselection.jpg

(Unfortunately, this setting isn’t permanent.) Then, go to Options / Connect and select your already-paired desktop in the standard Bluetooth selector dialog:

wwigoconnectcc.jpg

1.2.2.3 SmartCam

After starting the server and the client, on the latter, go to Options / Start:

smartstart.jpg

Select your desktop and you’re set.

1.3 Configuring desktop applications to make use of the connection

You will also need to configure the desktop (for example video-capable messenger) apps to use the (new) video (or even audio) source one-by-one. Here, I show the example of Live Messenger, as you may already know this – after all, this is done in entirely the same way as with setting up a standard USB camera.

Go to Tools / Audio and Video Setup. Click Next two times to get to the audio input dialog. Here, if if you use Ateksoft WebCamera Plus on Windows Mobile, you’ll be able to switch to it as is depicted in the following screenshot:

coolcammike.png

Otherwise, just press Next to select the camera. The following screenshot shows my tablet PC with all the reviewed clients installed:

selectcam.png

Here, you’ll need to select the right source. As these are named after the name of the given application, they’re very easy to recognize.

2. Available camera applications

Fortunately, there are several solutions for all major mobile operating systems of which, here, I cover three: Windows Mobile, Symbian S60 and BlackBerry. Let’s start with the first.

2.1 Windows Mobile

For Windows Mobile (WinMo), there are two solutions: Ateksoft WebCamera Plus and Warelex Mobiola Web Camera. Of the two, as the time being, I’d go with the first if you need front camera support – the latter doesn’t support front cameras on Windows Mobile (and has HUGE CPU and, consequentially, power usage when in foreground).

2.1.1 Ateksoft WebCamera Plus 2.0

I’ve already reviewed an earlier version of Ateksoft CoolCamera (a predecessor to WebCamera Plus). Version 2.0 of WebCamera Plus introduced a lot of goodies like audio capture (important for computers without a microphone).

Note that, today, CoolCamera is different from WebCamera Plus: it, on some select models, allows for taking videos at a much higher resolution than allowed by the built-in camera applications. (It’s, as opposed to CoolCapture (see below), doesn’t require a desktop component for video compression.) In this respect, it’s pretty much like the old, for seasoned Windows Mobile / Windows CE users, very well-known CECam. Finally, CoolCapture is a desktop-side video / screenshot capturer application.

This is the camera app I recommend the most for WinMo users.

2.1.2 Warelex Mobiola Web Camera 3.1.8

It’s a multiplatform (BlackBerry, Symbian S60v2/3, UIQ2/3; Windows Mobile) title.

Note that the license is attached to a desktop PC– and not a mobile phone. That is, if you’d like to use your phone with more than one PC’s, look for something else. Also see THIS for more info on this.

As with Ateksoft, they also have remote capture tools with image / video capture capabilities and IM support (for the screen only) - but "only" for the BlackBerry (for which, so far, I’ve used a free alternative) and Symbian S60v3/UIQ3; the latest version also working over Wi-Fi. Note that Ateksoft WebCamera Plus is also able to send over the phone / PDA screen contents themselves.

On Windows Mobile, it’s clearly weaker than Ateksoft WebCamera Plus because it, among other things, doesn’t support audio capture (should your desktop / notebook lack a built-in mike) and, even more importantly, front cameras.

2.2 Symbian

2.2.1 Warelex Mobiola Web Camera for S60 3.0.15

This is the one you may want to go for if you don’t mind the price: it’s stable, supports all kinds of connections (including USB) and consumes little power.

2.2.2 WWIGO (webcam wherever I go) beta 1.3

(also see THIS)

It’s a free product, all you need to do is registering on their homepage to access the download. Its support forum is HERE. It’s only able to use Bluetooth (no USB or Wi-Fi, unlike with Mobiola’s title). It didn’t work on either of my two MS BT stack (SP2/SP3) Windows XP’s - it always displayed Filter Initialization Failed – screenshot http://www.winmobiletech.com/072008Webcams/wwigoprob.png]HERE. This is a very common problem and is discussed HERE. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the 1.0 version (for example, the link given HERE is long-dead). Under Vista Ultimate SP1, however, it worked flawlessly on exactly the same HP TC1100 Tablet PC where it refused to do the same under XP Tablet Edition SP3. That is, the benchmarks I’ve made are done under Vista.

The longest thread on it outside the official forums is HERE.

2.2.3 SmartCam 1.2 for S60v2/3

(download HERE)

This is an open-source, Java-based application capable of connecting via Bluetooth only. Unfortunately, while Java does have its merits, in this case it resulted in vastly (about 1.5 times more) increased power usage (because of the higher CPU usage). Furthermore, it just quit on my v21 Nokia N95 after about 30 seconds and is, consequently, pretty much useless. You, on the other hand, may find it stable.

3. Comparison chart

3.1 Windows Mobile

t1.png

(original HTML table HERE)

3.2 Symbian

t2.png

(original HTML table HERE)

All Nokia N95 power consumption figures include the about 0.12W power consumption of the backlight.

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UPDATE (06/28/2009): The Mobola FAQ doesn’t mention this, so, I find it necessary to elaborate on it: I’ve tested the application under Windows 7 RC. It doesn’t run, not even with setting the main application executable, webcam.exe, to run in XP SP2/3 mode, with admin rights.

Fortunately, this all is very easy to fix: just download connapi.dll from HERE. Unzip the file to C:\Program Files\Mobiola Web Camera for S60\ and you’re set.

After this, camera worked just fine on my two Windows 7 notebooks (IBM Thinkpad t42p and HP TC1100 tablet) I’ve tested it on via Bluetooth, using my Nokia N95; works flawlessly.

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