A webcam is a video camera that feeds or streams an image or video in real time to or through a computer network, such as the Internet. Webcams are typically small cameras that sit on a desk, attach to a user's monitor, or are built into the hardware. Webcams can be used during a video chat session involving two or more people, with conversations that include live audio and video.
Webcam software enables users to record a video or stream the video on the Internet. As video streaming over the Internet requires much bandwidth, such streams usually use compressed formats. The maximum resolution of a webcam is also lower than most handheld video cameras, as higher resolutions would be reduced during transmission. The lower resolution enables webcams to be relatively inexpensive compared to most video cameras, but the effect is adequate for video chat sessions.
The term "webcam" (a clipped compound) may also be used in its original sense of a video camera connected to the Web continuously for an indefinite time, rather than for a particular session, generally supplying a view for anyone who visits its web page over the Internet. Some of them, for example, those used as online traffic cameras, are expensive, rugged professional video cameras.
Webcams typically include a lens, an image sensor, support electronics, and may also include one or even two microphones for sound.
Image sensors can be CMOS or CCD, the former being dominant for low-cost cameras, but CCD cameras do not necessarily outperform CMOS-based cameras in the low-price range. Most consumer webcams are capable of providing VGA-resolution video at a frame rate of 30 frames per second. Many newer devices can produce video in multi-megapixel resolutions, and a few can run at high frame rates such as the PlayStation Eye, which can produce 320×240 video at 120 frames per second. The Wii Remote contains an image sensor with a resolution of 1024×768 pixels.
As the bayer filter is proprietary, any webcam contains some built-in image processing, separate from compression.
Various lenses are available, the most common in consumer-grade webcams being a plastic lens that can be manually moved in and out to focus the camera. Fixed-focus lenses, which have no provision for adjustment, are also available. As a camera system's depth of field is greater for small image formats and is greater for lenses with a large f-number (small aperture), the systems used in webcams have a sufficiently large depth of field that the use of a fixed-focus lens does not impact image sharpness to a great extent.
Most models use simple, focal-free optics (fixed focus, factory-set for the usual distance from the monitor to which it is fastened to the user) or manual focus.
Digital video streams are represented by huge amounts of data, burdening its transmission (from the image sensor, where the data is continuously created) and storage alike.
Most if not all cheap webcams come with built-in ASIC to do video compression in real-time.
Support electronics read the image from the sensor and transmit it to the host computer. The camera pictured to the right, for example, uses a Sonix SN9C101 to transmit its image over USB. Typically, each frame is transmitted uncompressed in RGB or YUV or compressed as JPEG. Some cameras, such as mobile-phone cameras, use a CMOS sensor with supporting electronics "on die", i.e. the sensor and the support electronics are built on a single silicon chip to save space and manufacturing costs. Most webcams feature built-in microphones to make video calling and videoconferencing more convenient.
Typical interfaces used by articles marketed as a "webcam" are USB, Ethernet and IEEE 802.11 (denominated as IP camera). Further interfaces such as e.g. Composite video, S-Video or FireWire were also available.
The USB video device class (UVC) specification allows inter-connectivity of webcams to computers without the need for proprietary device drivers.
Various proprietary as well as free and open-source software is available to handle the UVC stream. One could use Guvcview or GStreamer and GStreamer-based software to handle the UVC stream. Another could use multiple USB cameras attached to the host computer the software resides on, and broadcast multiple streams at once over (Wireless) Ethernet, such as MotionEye. MotionEye can either be installed onto a Raspberry Pi as MotionEyeOs, or afterwards on Raspbian as well. MotionEye can also be set up on Debian, Raspbian is a variant of Debian.
Webcams are known for their low manufacturing cost and their high flexibility,making them the lowest-cost form of videotelephony. As webcams evolved simultaneously with display technologies, USB interface speeds and broadband internet speeds, the resolution went up from gradually from 320×240, to 640×480, and some now even offer 1280×720 (aka 720p) or 1920×1080 (aka 1080p) resolution.
Despite the low cost, the resolution offered as of 2019 is impressive, with now the low-end webcams offering resolutions of 720p, mid-range webcams offering 1080p resolution, and high-end webcams offering 4K resolution at 60 fps.
Webcams have become a source of security and privacy issues, as some built-in webcams can be remotely activated by spyware. To address this concern, many webcams come with a physical lens cover.
The most popular use of webcams is the establishment of video links, permitting computers to act as videophones or videoconference stations. For example, Apple's iSight camera, which is built into Apple laptops, iMacs and a majority of iPhones, can be used for video chat sessions, using the Messages instant messaging program. Other popular uses include security surveillance, computer vision, video broadcasting, and for recording social videos.
The video streams provided by webcams can be used for a number of purposes, each using appropriate software:
Webcams may be installed at places such as childcare centres, offices, shops and private areas to monitor security and general activity.
Webcams have been used for augmented reality experiences online. One such function has the webcam act as a "magic mirror" to allow an online shopper to view a virtual item on themselves. The Webcam Social Shopper is one example of software that utilizes the webcam in this manner.
Webcams can be added to instant messaging, text chat services such as AOL Instant Messenger, and VoIP services such as Skype, one-to-one live video communication over the Internet has now reached millions of mainstream PC users worldwide. Improved video quality has helped webcams encroach on traditional video conferencing systems. New features such as automatic lighting controls, real-time enhancements (retouching, wrinkle smoothing and vertical stretch), automatic face tracking and autofocus, assist users by providing substantial ease-of-use, further increasing the popularity of webcams.
Webcam features and performance can vary by program, computer operating system, and also by the computer's processor capabilities. Video calling support has also been added to several popular instant messaging programs.
Webcams can be used as security cameras. Software is available to allow PC-connected cameras to watch for movement and sound,recording both when they are detected. These recordings can then be saved to the computer, e-mailed, or uploaded to the Internet. In one well-publicised case, a computer e-mailed images of the burglar during the theft of the computer, enabling the owner to give police a clear picture of the burglar's face even after the computer had been stolen.
Unauthorized access of webcams can present significant privacy issues (see "Privacy" section below).
In December 2011, Russia announced that 290,000 Webcams would be installed in 90,000 polling stations to monitor the 2012 Russian presidential election.
Webcams can be used to take video clips and still pictures. Various software tools in wide use can be employed for this, such as PicMaster and Microsoft's Camera app (for use with Windows operating systems), Photo Booth (Mac), or Cheese (with Unix systems). For a more complete list see Comparison of webcam software.
Special software can use the video stream from a webcam to assist or enhance a user's control of applications and games. Video features, including faces, shapes, models and colors can be observed and tracked to produce a corresponding form of control. For example, the position of a single light source can be tracked and used to emulate a mouse pointer, a head-mounted light would enable hands-free computing and would greatly improve computer accessibility. This can be applied to games, providing additional control, improved interactivity and immersiveness.
FreeTrack is a free webcam motion-tracking application for Microsoft Windows that can track a special head-mounted model in up to six degrees of freedom and output data to mouse, keyboard, joystick and FreeTrack-supported games. By removing the IR filter of the webcam, IR LEDs can be used, which has the advantage of being invisible to the naked eye, removing a distraction from the user. TrackIR is a commercial version of this technology.
The EyeToy for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Eye for the PlayStation 3, and the Xbox Live Vision camera and Kinect motion sensor for the Xbox 360 and are color digital cameras that have been used as control input devices by some games.
Small webcam-based PC games are available as either standalone executables or inside web browser windows using Adobe Flash.
With very-low-light capability, a few specific models of webcams are very popular to photograph the night sky by astronomers and astro photographers. Mostly, these are manual-focus cameras and contain an old CCD array instead of comparatively newer CMOS array. The lenses of the cameras are removed and then these are attached to telescopes to record images, video, still, or both. In newer techniques, videos of very faint objects are taken for a couple of seconds and then all the frames of the video are "stacked" together to obtain a still image of respectable contrast.
A webcam's CCD response is linear proportional to the incoming light. µm. However, a color pixel consists of four black and white pixels each equipped with a color filter (for details see Bayer filter). Although these color filters work well in the visible, they may be rather transparent in the near infrared. By switching a webcam into the Bayer-mode it is possible to access the information of the single pixels and a resolution below 3 µm was possible.Therefore, webcams are suitable to record laser beam profiles, after the lens is removed. The resolution of a laser beam profiler depends on the pixel size. Commercial webcams are usually designed to record color images. The size of a webcam's color pixel depends on the model and may lie in the range of 5 to 10
First developed in 1991, a webcam was pointed at the Trojan Room coffee pot in the Cambridge University Computer Science Department (initially operating over a local network instead of the web). The camera was finally switched off on August 22, 2001. The final image captured by the camera can still be viewed at its homepage.The oldest continuously operating webcam, San Francisco State University's FogCam, has run since 1994 and was slated to turn off August 2019. After the publicity following extensive news coverage about the planned ending of FogCam, SFSU agreed to continue maintaining the FogCam and keep it running.
The first commercial webcam, the black-and-white QuickCam, entered the marketplace in 1994, created by the U.S. computer company Connectix. QuickCam was available in August 1994 for the Apple Macintosh, connecting via a serial port, at a cost of $100. Jon Garber, the designer of the device, had wanted to call it the "Mac-camera", but was overruled by Connectix's marketing department; a version with a PC-compatible parallel port and software for Microsoft Windows was launched in October 1995. The original QuickCam provided 320x240-pixel resolution with a grayscale depth of 16 shades at 60 frames per second, or 256 shades at 15 frames per second.These cam were tested on several Delta II launch using a variety of communication protocols including CDMA, TDMA, GSM and HF.
In 2010, Time Magazine named the QuickCam as one of the top computer devices of all time.
Videoconferencing via computers already existed, and at the time client-server based videoconferencing software such as CU-SeeMe had started to become popular.
The first widely known laptop with integrated webcam option, at a pricepoint starting at US$ 12,000, was an IBM RS/6000 860 laptopand his ThinkPad 850 sibling, released in 1996.
One of the most widely reported-on webcam sites was JenniCam, created in 1996, which allowed Internet users to observe the life of its namesake constantly, in the same vein as the reality TV series Big Brother , launched four years later.Other cameras are mounted overlooking bridges, public squares, and other public places, their output made available on a public web page in accordance with the original concept of a "webcam". Aggregator websites have also been created, providing thousands of live video streams or up-to-date still pictures, allowing users to find live video streams based on location or other criteria.
Around the turn of the 21st century, computer hardware manufacturers began building webcams directly into laptop and desktop screens, thus eliminating the need to use an external USB or FireWire camera. Gradually webcams came to be used more for telecommunications, or videotelephony, between two people, or among several people, than for offering a view on a Web page to an unknown public.
For less than US$100 in 2012, a three-dimensional space webcam became available, producing videos and photos in 3D anaglyph image with a resolution up to 1280 × 480 pixels. Both sender and receiver of the images must use 3D glasses to see the effect of three dimensional image.
Webcams are considered an essential accessory for working from home, mainly to compensate for lower quality video processing with the built-in camera of the average laptop. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, webcams initially sold out, or their prices were being marked up by third party sellers.Most laptops before and during the pandemic were made with cameras capping out at 720p recording quality at best, compared to the industry standard of 1080p or 4K seen in smartphones and televisions from the same period. The backlog on new developments for built-in webcams is the result of a design flaw with laptops being too thin to support the 7mm camera modules to fit inside, instead resorting to ~2.5mm. Also the camera components are more expensive and not a high level of demand for this feature, companies like Apple have not updated their webcams since 2012. Smartphones started to be used as a backup option or webcam replacement, with kits including lighting and tripods or downloadable apps.
Many users do not wish the continuous exposure for which webcams were originally intended, but rather prefer privacy.Such privacy is lost when malware allow malicious hackers to activate the webcam without the user's knowledge, providing the hackers with a live video and audio feed. This is a particular concern on many laptop computers, as such cameras normally cannot be physically disabled if hijacked by such a Trojan Horse program or other similar spyware programs.
Cameras such as Apple's older external iSight cameras include lens covers to thwart this. Some webcams have built-in hardwired LED indicators that light up whenever the camera is active, sometimes only in video mode.However, it is possible for malware to circumvent the indicator and activate the camera surreptitiously, as researchers demonstrated in the case of a MacBook's built-in camera in 2013.
Various companies sell sliding lens covers and stickers that allow users to retrofit a computer or smartphone to close access to the camera lens as needed.One such company reported having sold more than 250,000 such items from 2013 to 2016. However, any opaque material will work. Prominent users include former FBI director James Comey.
The process of attempting to hack into a person's webcam and activate it without the webcam owner's permission has been called camfecting, a portmanteau of cam and infecting. The remotely activated webcam can be used to watch anything within the webcam's field of vision. Camfecting is most often carried out by infecting the victim's computer with a virus.
In January 2005, some search engine queries were published in an online forumwhich allow anyone to find thousands of Panasonic and Axis high-end web cameras, provided that they have a web-based interface for remote viewing. Many such cameras are running on default configuration, which does not require any password login or IP address verification, making them viewable by anyone.
In the 2010 Robbins v. Lower Merion School District "WebcamGate" case, plaintiffs charged that two suburban Philadelphia high schools secretly spied on students by surreptitiously remotely activating iSight webcams embedded in school-issued MacBook laptops the students were using at home—thereby infringing on their privacy rights. School authorities admitted to secretly snapping over 66,000 photographs, including shots of students in the privacy of their bedrooms, and some with teenagers in various states of undress.The school board involved quickly disabled their laptop spyware program after parents filed lawsuits against the board and various individuals.
Webcams allow for inexpensive, real-time video chat and webcasting, in both amateur and professional pursuits. They are frequently used in online dating and for online personal services offered mainly by women when camgirling. However, the ease of webcam use through the Internet for video chat has also caused issues. For example, moderation system of various video chat websites such as Omegle has been criticized as being ineffective, with sexual content still rampant.In a 2013 case, the transmission of nude photos and videos via Omegle from a teenage girl to a schoolteacher resulted in a child pornography charge.
YouTube is a popular website hosting many videos made using webcams. News websites such as the BBC also produce professional live news videos using webcams rather than traditional cameras. [ better source needed ]
Webcams can also encourage telecommuting, enabling people to work from home via the Internet, rather than traveling to their office.
The popularity of webcams among teenagers with Internet access has raised concern about the use of webcams for cyber-bullying.Webcam recordings of teenagers, including underage teenagers, are frequently posted on popular Web forums and imageboards such as 4chan.
Videophone calls (also: videocalls and video chat ),differ from videoconferencing in that they expect to serve individuals, not groups. However that distinction has become increasingly blurred with technology improvements such as increased bandwidth and sophisticated software clients that can allow for multiple parties on a call. In general everyday usage the term videoconferencing is now frequently used instead of videocall for point-to-point calls between two units. Both videophone calls and videoconferencing are also now commonly referred to as a video link.
Webcams are popular, relatively low cost devices which can provide live video and audio streams via personal computers, and can be used with many software clients for both video calls and videoconferencing.
A videoconference system is generally higher cost than a videophone and deploys greater capabilities. A videoconference (also known as a videoteleconference) allows two or more locations to communicate via live, simultaneous two-way video and audio transmissions. This is often accomplished by the use of a multipoint control unit (a centralized distribution and call management system) or by a similar non-centralized multipoint capability embedded in each videoconferencing unit. Again, technology improvements have circumvented traditional definitions by allowing multiple party videoconferencing via web-based applications.A separate webpage article is devoted to videoconferencing.
A telepresence system is a high-end videoconferencing system and service usually employed by enterprise-level corporate offices. Telepresence conference rooms use state-of-the art room designs, video cameras, displays, sound-systems and processors, coupled with high-to-very-high capacity bandwidth transmissions.
Typical use of the various technologies described above include calling or conferencing on a one-on-one, one-to-many or many-to-many basis for personal, business, educational, deaf Video Relay Service and tele-medical, diagnostic and rehabilitative use or services. New services utilizing videocalling and videoconferencing, such as teachers and psychologists conducting online sessions,personal videocalls to inmates incarcerated in penitentiaries, and videoconferencing to resolve airline engineering issues at maintenance facilities, are being created or evolving on an ongoing basis.
A digital camera is a camera that captures photographs in digital memory. Most cameras produced today are digital, largely replacing those that capture images on photographic film. While there are still dedicated digital cameras, many more cameras are now incorporated into mobile devices like smartphones, which can, among many other purposes, use their cameras to initiate live video-telephony and directly edit and upload images to others. High-end, high-definition dedicated cameras are still commonly used by professionals and those who desire to take higher-quality photographs.
A camcorder is an electronically device originally combining a video camera and a videocassette recorder.
iSight is a brand name used by Apple Inc. to refer to cameras on various devices. The name was originally used for the external iSight webcam, which retailed for US$149, connected to a computer via a FireWire cable, and came with a set of mounts to place it atop any then current Apple display, laptop computer, all-in-one desktop computer, or flat surface.
A video camera is a camera used for electronic motion picture acquisition, initially developed for the television industry but now common in other applications as well.
A camera phone is a mobile phone which is able to capture photographs and often record video using one or more built-in digital cameras. It can also send the resulting image wirelessly and conveniently. The first commercial camera phone was the Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210, released in Japan in May 1999.
QuickCam is a line of webcam video camera products by Logitech.
Videotelephony comprises the technologies for the reception and transmission of audio-video signals by users in different locations, for communication between people in real time. A videophone is a telephone with a video display, capable of simultaneous video and audio for communication between people in real time. Videoconferencing implies the use of this technology for a group or organizational meeting rather than for individuals, in a videoconference. Telepresence may refer either to a high-quality videotelephony system or to meetup technology, which goes beyond video into robotics. Videoconferencing has also been called "visual collaboration" and is a type of groupware.
Digital photography uses cameras containing arrays of electronic photodetectors to produce images focused by a lens, as opposed to an exposure on photographic film. The captured images are digitized and stored as a computer file ready for further digital processing, viewing, electronic publishing, or digital printing.
An image sensor or imager is a sensor that detects and conveys information used to make an image. It does so by converting the variable attenuation of light waves into signals, small bursts of current that convey the information. The waves can be light or other electromagnetic radiation. Image sensors are used in electronic imaging devices of both analog and digital types, which include digital cameras, camera modules, camera phones, optical mouse devices, medical imaging equipment, night vision equipment such as thermal imaging devices, radar, sonar, and others. As technology changes, electronic and digital imaging tends to replace chemical and analog imaging.
The following are common definitions related to the machine vision field.
A softcam is essentially a software-based camera.
The LifeCam is a lineup of webcams from Microsoft for PC users marketed since 2006. Various models and series of webcams are designed for either laptops or desktops.
The Dreameye is a digital camera released for the Sega Dreamcast in 2000 in Japan only. It was designed to be used as a webcam and a digital still camera, and there were plans for games to involve the Dreameye.
The Digital Classic Camera Leica M3 is a miniature replica camera made by Minox with the outward appearance of a Leica M3 viewfinder camera. It came delivered in a massive wooden box. It had a digital camera processor made by Zoran. The body was made of metal, covered with leatherette. Some of the metal levers were movable but without function. The camera was very small and light. A special flash in retro style was available for the Minox series of classic analog and digital replica cameras. Two buttons and as 2 digit display comprised the user interface. A special USB-cable had to be plugged in as a computer interface. Despite the image quality, it could also be seen as a toy- or, more accurately, as a model- camera. In webcam mode it had only a resolution of 320x240 pixels.
Document cameras, also known as visual presenters, visualizers, digital overheads, or docucams, are real-time image capture devices for displaying an object to a large audience. Like an opaque projector, a document camera is able to magnify and project the images of actual, three-dimensional objects, as well as transparencies. They are, in essence, high resolution web cams, mounted on arms so as to facilitate their placement over a page. This allows a teacher, lecturer or presenter to write on a sheet of paper or to display a two or three-dimensional object while the audience watches. Theoretically, all objects can be displayed by a document camera. Most objects are simply placed under the camera. The camera takes the picture which in turn produces a live picture using a projector or monitor. Different types of document camera/visualizer allow great flexibility in terms of placement of objects. Larger objects, for example, can simply be placed in front of the camera and the camera rotated as necessary,or a ceiling mounted document camera can also be used to allow a larger working area to be used.
A digital microscope is a variation of a traditional optical microscope that uses optics and a digital camera to output an image to a monitor, sometimes by means of software running on a computer. A digital microscope often has its own in-built LED light source, and differs from an optical microscope in that there is no provision to observe the sample directly through an eyepiece. Since the image is focused on the digital circuit, the entire system is designed for the monitor image. The optics for the human eye are omitted.
A time-of-flight camera is a range imaging camera system employing time-of-flight techniques to resolve distance between the camera and the subject for each point of the image, by measuring the round trip time of an artificial light signal provided by a laser or an LED. Laser-based time-of-flight cameras are part of a broader class of scannerless LIDAR, in which the entire scene is captured with each laser pulse, as opposed to point-by-point with a laser beam such as in scanning LIDAR systems. Time-of-flight camera products for civil applications began to emerge around 2000, as the semiconductor processes allowed the production of components fast enough for such devices. The systems cover ranges of a few centimeters up to several kilometers. The distance resolution is about 1 cm. The spatial resolution of time-of-flight cameras is generally low compared to standard 2D video cameras, with most commercially available devices at 320 × 240 pixels or less as of 2011. Compared to other 3D laser scanning methods for capturing 3D images, TOF cameras operate more quickly by providing up to 160 operations per second.
Omegle is a free online chat website that allows users to socialize with others without the need to register. The service randomly pairs users in one-on-one chat sessions where they chat anonymously using the names "You" and "Stranger" or "Stranger 1" and "Stranger 2" in the case of Spy mode. The site was created by 18-year-old Leif K-Brooks of Brattleboro, Vermont, and was launched on 25 March 2009. Less than a month after launch, Omegle garnered around 150,000 page views a day, and in March 2010 the site introduced a video conferencing feature.
The Canon EOS 7D Mark II is a professional digital single-lens reflex camera made by Canon. It was announced on September 15, 2014 with a suggested retail price of US$1,799. It features a 20.2 effective megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, Full HD video recording at 60 fps, 10.0 frames per second continuous shooting, a 100% accuracy viewfinder which offers 1× magnification. It also features a 65-point auto-focus system, a built-in Speedlite transmitter and a new 150k RGB pixels + IR metering sensor. It was preceded by the Canon EOS 7D.
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