It may seem like my long, winding exploration of webcams has stalled, but I assure you that’s not the case. I’m moving as fast as the industry will permit. The fact is that the industry just isn’t moving very quickly.
Back in October 2013 I first penned something about my hunt for a USB 3.0 webcam. At that point there were basically none to be had. A few months later when Vaddio presented their Huddlestation product on VUC472 they mentioned that USB 3.0 capable chip sets for such devices were anticipates later in 2014.
Well, it’s now well into 2016 and where are the USB 3.0 webcams? I actually get asked this question quite a bit, most recently in a tweet from George Ou of ZDNet.
Have you ever noticed that basically all webcams are connected to the host computer using the USB 2.0 bus? The ubiquitous USB 2.0 bus is cheap and convenient for such purposes. Providing 480 Mbps it’s no slouch, but it’s not exactly state-of-the-art either. This has implications when webcams are reaching for HD resolutions at decent frame rates.
Until quite recently webcams always provided an uncompressed image stream to the host computer. USB 2.0 is a serial connection standard supporting up to 480 Mbps. That’s about one third of the data rate of the production HD-SDI standard, SMPTE-292M, which is 1.485 Gbps.
Let’s do a little math corresponding to a 720p video stream as related to uncompressed HDTV.
8 bit/pixel @ 1280 x 720 @ 59.94fps = 105 MB per/sec, or 370 GB per/hr.
105 MB/s = 840 mbps
…but a lot of video conferencing gear actually uses 30 frames/second instead of 59.94 or 60 frames/second…so half that value…
720p30 = 420 mbps!
There you have it! The mathematics supports the assertion that 720p30 uncompressed “HD” video stream can be passed across the USB 2.0 serial bus. This explains how Skype, Google, ooVoo, VSee and others have been able to offer HD video using common USB 2.0 connected webcams. Understanding the limit of the USB 2.0 connection also informs us why 1080-capable webcams have not become similarly commonplace.
The first post in this series on webcams was historical. This one is as well, but it highlights the performance offered by the very first HD-capable webcam that was recommended for use in UC/video conference solutions.
There was a time when I was pursuing the ability to deploy HDVoice for my home office. If this were possible then it would improve not only my working life, but also that of my US co-workers.
While I might have the lovely Polycom hardware there was no way that I could convince my employer to replace our existing IP phones en masse. At the time they had around a dozen older SoundPoint models in service.
However, some of our staff also used soft phones on Windows laptops. I saw this as a way to sneak HDVoice into the operation for minimal cost. The trick was to find a good, G.722-capable soft phone for a reasonable price.
Several times over the past few weeks I’ve had to create screencasts or asked to advise how they are best created. There are a variety of approaches to this task, but I’ve found that my preferred technique is perhaps uncommon, and worth sharing.
Over the years there have been many times when screencasts were the most appropriate method for conducting user training or addressing specific support issues. At different times I’ve used various software tools in these pursuits. Techsmith’s Camtasia Studio was the most common solution in years past, although Adobe Captivate was also notable.
More recently I’ve sought a lower-cost solutions and settled upon the freeware CamStudio as a passable solution. CamStudio is apparently the open source progenitor of Camtasia Studio.
There are also a myriad of free, online services that do their magic by way of a browser downloadable applet. I have little experience of these as I prefer another approach entirely.
As in other matters, I’ve long held the belief that a more hardware-centric approach can hold a distinct advantage. This has become increasingly true as common PC screen resolutions have come into alignment with frame sizes common in HD video production. A screencast that looks as good a broadcast TV is likely going to be more than adequate.
The interesting thing about this 29” monitor is its unusual size. It has a 21:9 aspect ratio supporting 2560 x 1080 resolution. That’s effectively the same pixel count as my two 24” monitors, but without the cost of so much desktop real estate.
On the other hand, that’s a lot of pixels in a 29” display. As a practical matter, these aging eyes might not be able to appreciate the delivered reality.
This is a topic that seemingly will not go away, yet it’s not clear that there’s much uptake by customers. Going back two years, the first wave of “Smart HDTVs” were capable of running an embedded Skype application. With the addition of an optional camera/microphone module HDTVs from Samsung, Panasonic and others were able to provide 720p video calling from point-to-point.
While a curiosity, this capability was initially limited to the high-end models that priced around $3K. Then you had to add the optional camera module, which cost an additional $200-300. In addition, there were reports of interoperability issues with other types of Skype clients. Your pricey HDTV might not be able to call a Mac or PC-based Skype client.
To be sure, the cost of smart HDTVs has been falling, making such capability available at prices closer to $1K. Even so, it’s just not clear to me that embedded video calling in smart TVs was the revolution that some expected. Asking around I’ve yet to find anyone who found the Smart TV apps a compelling argument for replacing their existing HDTV.