educational

Webcam Tech: Personal Broadcasting Made Easy

Stephen Yagielowicz

For live cam performers, the barriers to entry into the marketplace are surprisingly low; with options ranging from a cheap laptop with a built-in webcam, set up in a brightly sunlit room, to sophisticated, purpose-built studios using the latest camera systems, “green screens” and balanced three-light setups.

Regardless of how advanced your own approach is there are several common ingredients, including a computer and web-enabled camera, a high-speed Internet connection, suitable software and lighting, and not so optionally anymore, a quality microphone.

One of the biggest factors in overall image quality (and as a result, revenues), is your lighting quality, since no one wants to pay to see dark, grainy video streams.

Let’s take a closer look:

One of the first things that prospective cammers consider is the webcam itself. While some laptops have usable integrated cams, they may not be ideal for commercial applications. When a strict budget is a factor, the sub-$100 Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 provides a great solution; offering full 1080p HD video, a sharp 20-step autofocus Carl Zeiss lens, built-in dual stereo microphones with automatic noise reduction and h.264 video. The unit also features the company’s Fluid Crystal technology—delivering smoother video, sharper pictures, richer colors and clearer sound — and it grabs 15 megapixel images.

Like many other webcams, the C920 attaches to your computer via a standard USB 2.0 connection.

Performers looking for a step-up solution should check out the Sony EVID70 remote controlled cam (pro.sony.com/bbsc/ssr/product-EVID70/) and its sister units, that while considerably more expensive than the static C920 and its brethren, enables viewers to control pan, tilt and zoom functions — as long as your service provider offers compatible software. When in doubt, check with your program’s support staff for specific recommendations of pan/tilt/zoom camera setups proven to work with their system.

Ultimately, a high-end or professional three-chip video camera and external microphone setup will deliver the highest audio and video quality, although at a much higher price and often at the expense of incompatibility with viewer-initiated controls.

On the subject of audio and microphones, it is important to remember that having audio capability is increasingly necessary in order to be competitive and key to having your hands free for performances. In this arena, shockmounted and windscreen equipped studio microphones minimize noise from fans or air conditioners; noise-inducing vibrations caused by “bed-flopping” or other movements; and generally contribute to cleaner audio. Check out Blue (www.bluemic.com) for a range of cost-effective options.

Another consideration is the computer attached to the webcam. For example, Microsoft Windows users will need at least a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 2 GB of RAM or more, in order to enjoy 1080p HD video recording. Monitor size is also important, with larger, higher resolution displays being a preferable choice, since software controls and chat panels must be shown, in addition to cam previews and the cam-to-cam windows used by many operators seeking to enhance their private shows.

A high-speed Internet connection is also vital — but often an item that needs upgrading, since many service plans focus on the user’s download speed, rather than the upload speed, which needs to be a minimum of 300k to support a webcam. A much higher 1 Mbps upload for 720p, or 2 Mbps upload for 1080p (rates not available on many “home” packages) may require an upgrade to business-class service.

Consider also that multi-site chatting and cam-to-cam sessions effectively dilute your bandwidth by splitting it up among multiple users.

One of the biggest factors in overall image quality (and as a result, revenues), is your lighting quality, since no one wants to pay to see dark, grainy video streams. Great lighting can make decent cams better and better cams produce excellent results — but it takes more than a bright light — “control” over your light sources is necessary to maximize image quality. This means a separation of sources, with adequate modeling to provide depth and texture, which is something that is not possible with simple on-camera light sources. Harsh lighting is also an issue, with diffusion being vital to softer, more sensual, skin tones.

Keep in mind that traditional quartz video lights generate a tremendous amount of heat, which can make prolonged sessions extremely uncomfortable, while incandescent lighting can cause off-colorcasts. With this in mind, inexpensive quartz “shop lights” are a poor choice, but attractive to budget-conscious shooters who would be much better off investigating the latest generation of fluorescent lighting kits.

For example, ePhoto (www.ephotoinc.com) offers a variety of cost-effective solutions, including a decent three-light fluorescent kit for less than $300. A big step-up in budget buys higher quality, more flexibility and greater longevity, with lighting kits from Lowel (www.lowel.com) fitting the bill.

As a side benefit, using a decent video camera and three-light kit allows performers to produce more than simple webcam shows — including generating enough usable content to produce a solo site.

Perhaps the easiest issue to address is that of software, as the cam service provider, for example, AWE, Pussy-Cash or Video Secrets, among others, tends to provide this essential element, tailored to their own specific requirements. Likewise, solo-operators may make use of Skype or other instant messaging tools that are suitable for their needs. Small multi-performer cam studios and individual performers also have other options available; including ManyCam (see page 44) and EvoCam, which can provide a number of value-added features. If your ambitions range higher, then 2much.net will provide you with a robust and feature-packed platform.

The bottom line is that while there are many factors beyond your control, such as the software your marketing partners require you to use and the level of traffic they can provide; the better the hardware and faster the Internet connection you have, the higher your profit potential will be. After the technical details are resolved, it is simply a matter of your personal appeal and dedication; your skill at wooing the clients; and the hours you are willing to invest in your business — your camming success is all up to you.

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