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Sunday, August 17, 2003

A while ago, I was privileged to be able to attend the World Wide Developers Conference in the stead of Bill Catambay and I got to see my first Steve Jobs Keynote in person. During the keynote, Steve introduced the iSight, which enables audio and video conferencing through a new beta version of iChat. In his keynote, he talked to an Apple VP in France and Al Gore in Los Angeles. One of the benefits of attending the keynote was receiving my very own iSight.

The iSight comes in a box nearly (probably) identical in size to the iPod box. It is virtually cubic, and as with every Apple product I've ever owned, a really fun thing to open. First you remove the outer cardboard sleeve, and the inner box opens in half. On one side is the (thin) manual covering some stuff and on the other side, in its gleaming perforated metal is the cylinder that is the iSight. There isn't much to the manual, other than some diagrams showing you how to assemble the camera mounts and stuff. Other items included in the box are the Firewire cable used to connect the camera to your computer, some plastic sleeves that are used to attach the Firewire cable securely to the camera, a nifty plastic cylinder used to store the iSight when you are traveling, and 3 different mounts used to attach the camera to your Mac.

One of the iSight's big advantages, besides seamlessly fitting into the digital lifestyle on the Mac, is offering the ability to mount directly on the Macintosh and enable the user to look nearly into the eye of the person they're talking to. Other web cams just sit on the desk, looking up at the chin of the user. Steve implied that this would make the iSight more personable than other web cams.

The mounts include a laptop mount that apparently only fits the newest iBooks and PowerBooks with the very thin screens. It does not fit the older clamshell iBooks. The other mounts are used for attaching the camera either to a flat or an inclined surface, like the top of a monitor. These worked fine, but they assume that you will only attach the mount to one monitor and leave it there forever. The bottom of the mount has an adhesive tape and I assume that it would be messy to move from one place to another. Another problem with the mounts is that they do not allow any movement of the camera from side to side. You can pivot the camera up and down using the built in mount, but you can not turn it side to side without moving your whole monitor. And you can't fix this by mounting the iSight on a tripod because there is no tripod mount. The camera is mounted to the plastic mounts via a fitting that attaches to the Firewire cable.

The camera works most easily with a new iChat beta that allows the addition of both audio and video streaming of inputs from your Mac. It allows the user to actually chat or see the person at the other end of the chat session. In actual usage, iChat immediately recognized the camera, and in several chat sessions, the camera worked perfectly. It requires at least a 600MHz G3, and I tested it with a 450MHz G4 Cube, and although there was some impact on performance, the people on the other end said it was working fine if a bit choppy. One factor that may have been causing the choppiness is the 128kbps uplink on my DSL connection. Otherwise, the picture quality is great, supplying a 640x480 picture resolution and featuring automatic exposure and focusing that works great inside or outside.

The camera costs $149, so the question might come up, "What else can I use this thing for?" Glad you asked. It works with third party software as a generic web cam, at least using software that can see standard cameras attached to the Firewire port. I tried it with EvoCam, and it worked great.

In summary, the iSight is another hit from Apple. If you do a lot of chatting, and want to see who you're talking to, or want to keep up with family far away, this camera is for you. It installs effortlessly, works perfectly, even with third party software, and except for the fact that it only has fixed mounts that are not easy to move around, takes great pictures of whatever you point it at.


* Seamlessly integrates with Apple and third party software
* Great picture quality
* Looks fabulous


* Included mounts are limited in movement
* Pricey


4 out of 5

posted by Bob R. 11:35 AM

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