Big Brother is watching you. That’s what a lot of people thought when the idea of a camera connected to the Internet was attached to a computer for the first time. While some people are still wearing their tinfoil hats and ensuring that no satellites will ever read their thoughts, the rest of us have transitioned into a new era where all of a sudden, being across the state or across the country is no barrier to having a face to face conversation with your friends and family. Webcams make it possible, and they are the focus of this week’s Modern Nerd.
The All-Seeing Eye
You may not care if there is a camera attached to your computer. Or you may be terrified of the notion. My father didn’t understand how these things worked, so went as far as to duct tape the webcam lens on his laptop. Ordinarily I would make this into a joke, but I think that the story stands for itself. The truth is that a webcam is just like anything else on your computer. It requires user input and cannot start itself without permission from a program, the operating system, and ultimately, you. Only certain programs use it, like photo and video capture software, video chatting through Google+ or Skype, or streaming software like XSplit. We’ll go over all of these in a little bit more depth, so forge ahead.
High Definition – Visit the Mirror before the Camera
Webcams come in all shapes and sizes now. Small ones attached to your smartphone or laptop are the least intrusive, standard definition ones are cheap and attach themselves easily to any computer, and HD models are good enough to turn your computer into a news studio at home. Some manufacturers have built in microphones to reduce desktop clutter, and automatic focusing to reduce the amount of work for you.
Your Window into the World
Video chatting is extremely popular in the college community and for the work-from-home crowd. Email and text and phones are still useful, but nothing makes you feel more connected to someone than having a conversation face to face. If geography makes that impossible, your next best choice is Skype, or any other program of your choosing. Skype is a free to use program that sends and receives video calls. Their premium service has a lot of cool features like screen sharing and conference calls. But you aren’t required to pay for anything to use it to stay connected.
Screen Capture – Do You See What I See?
Sending what is on your screen is one of the best arguments for getting a premium video calling program. If there is a problem with your computer and you can video call your buddy to show them what’s wrong, you’re twice as likely to get it resolved. Another method is taking video right from your desktop with a program called Fraps.
Fraps was originally developed to test and benchmark your computer’s performance. I’ll probably do an optimization article soon enough, but for now let’s have a look at what you can do with the video recording function. If you have a video game you want to play and share with the world, a video tutorial to make showing the features of a program, or just use on-screen images to create cool artwork, Fraps can help. You can press a single button and the program running in the background captures everything that happens on the screen and saves it to a video file. Combine this with a webcam, and a streaming program like XSplit, and you can make your own show, right from your computer.
XSplit is a video production and streaming suite, and is free to use. Because I could spend an entire article on it, I’ll invite you to use Google to learn more. Just know that the tools are there, and are freely available. All you need is the idea, and you can run with it.
Using webcams, and other methods of computer video production, is what spawned the revolution in media that we all know and love as YouTube. Some people make good money from advertising on their channels on the Internet. Whether you are calling your buddy across town or the country, video calling is a great way to increase your personal interaction, and it gives you the tools to create your own content for the Internet or your own personal use. Thanks for reading, check out the rest of the Modern Nerd on our blog, updated every week.