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Spicy Ideas: Video. Online. Now!

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Is your webcam lonely? Mine is. Most videos I shoot are on a variety of handheld prosumer models—720p, 30 fps to an SD card on my latest toy, er, I mean, research device. Occasionally, I will bring in a professional camera and shoot HD to MiniDV or a hard drive. I even shoot video on my point-and-shoot cameras and load it up to Flickr. But one of the easiest ways to get quick, short clips onto the web silently stares at me every time I open my laptop. Bathed in the glow of its warm, green light, I forget the power of my iSight camera.

A built-in camera is standard issue on most laptops and some desktops in this day and age. As the speed of business increases, bandwidth widens, and web-based video software improves, the built-in web camera is becoming a powerful communication tool. Let’s take a look at our small but robust friend and three services that let you unleash its power with instant gratification.

YouTube
The giant of online video makes it ├╝ber-easy to record and upload video directly from your computer. Log into your account, roll over the Upload button, and hit the Record from Webcam button. Allow YouTube, via Adobe Flash Player, to access your camera and audio, and click the Record button. Stop recording, and you can preview, publish, or re-record your video. After publishing, you have the ability to add tags, metadata, location, embed codes, and myriad additional options to your video.

The usability for this tool is very easy and allows for a ton of options surrounding your video. While the ease of use rocks, the quality is rocky. There is an option to plug in a FireWire or DV camera, which would raise the capture quality, but the pixelation on playback is chunky enough to be distracting. However, since this is a browser-based webcam capture, I give it three light bulbs out of five for quality.

Quality: CCC
Ease of Use: CCCC

Facebook
The most popular social network has a nice set of video tools, and it definitely wins the minimalist design award for recording in your browser. Selecting the video page on your profile brings up all the videos you have been tagged in and also offers two slender, gray buttons for upload or record. Selecting the Record button brings up the familiar "allow Adobe Flash Player" box and then transitions to a single Record button. The video appears to be a bit darker than YouTube, but it records smoothly and looks clean. And if YouTube gives you every option for your video, then Facebook does the exact opposite. It definitely feels more focused.

Unfortunately, the fantastic minimalist feel is overshadowed by the lower quality of the video—yes, even lower than YouTube. The audio feels a bit scratchier, and the slight darkening is visible when you compare the previous YouTube video with this one. Also, because it supports HD and widescreen video uploads, the SD video plays back in a giant window.

Quality: CC
Ease of Use: CCCC

Tinychat
You could probably use Tinychat with your eyes closed, and if we make video chat any easier, we might open a space-time continuum that takes us back to the AOL Instant Messenger days. This disposable chat room allows up to 12 video and audio users and 100-plus text chatters to congregate together on one page. Visit the site and, with no login necessary, you can simply click on Create Your Room. Then, you can either select a custom URL or let the site create one for you. Sign in to your Twitter account or select a custom username, allow Tinychat to access your devices via Flash, select your camera, and you’re live. You can embed the window on your site, invite friends using Twitter, and tweak your settings with easy-to-recognize chunky buttons.

I tested this with seven people using the video and audio features. The quality was good for having multiple webcam connections, but we experienced a few drops in audio and had to reconnect once or twice. Overall, I am very impressed with how easy this tool is to use and how good multiple live video and audio streams can look.

Quality: CCC
Ease of Use: CCCCC

Whether you are a video purist or a nervous newbie, that built-in camera is way more than just a black dot on the lid of your laptop. Get out there, join the conversations, and send me a video or invite me to chat. Instant gratification is only a click away.

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