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More iSight Video Tricks

by Derrick Story

One by one your iChat buddies have turned off video access and are back to chatting by audio or text. That's fine, even normal. Video conferencing is designed for special occasions, not everyday use. Even the Jetsons disabled the picture phone every now and then.

But when you're not video conferencing, you still have a powerful camera perched atop your Mac. Yes, it's pretty to look at. But it's also oozing with capability. I first touched on this in a weblog entry titled, Want to Do More with the iSight than Chat?, where I explained how EvoCam software really expands the iSight's capabilities. Then, in the article, Making Movies with the Apple iSight, I showed you how to configure Apple's QuickTime Broadcaster to capture video from your iSight and save it to your hard drive. Broadcaster is a cool application, and it's free. But it's not the perfect tool for local video capture.

Many people have said to me that they found Broadcaster's interface confusing and difficult to configure. Also, we've all discovered together that there's a minor incompatibility with the iSight's internal microphone and the Broadcaster software. When you use the iSight's builtin mic for audio capture, the audio and video tend to get out of sync. To overcome this drawback, I began testing alternatives to Broadcaster that still tapped the iSight's movie making abilities, but with fewer headaches. Today I'm going to show you two of my favorites, iRecordNow and BTV, plus a very cool piece of software called SecuritySpy.

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Along the way you'll discover that these applications include some new tricks: time lapse photography, motion detection, and surveillance. So fire up your iSight, turn off iChat AV, and let's see what kind of stuff we can make.

iRecordNow Designed Specifically for the iSight

The creative minds over at Bonix Software have released a nifty application called iRecordNow that's the model of simplicity when it comes to turning your iSight into a video camcorder. I think this software is particularly good if you've become frustrated with QuickTime Broadcaster and want an easier way to capture video.

Since the development of this app is still in progress, you can download it now and request a free license that will be valid until the 1.0 version is released.

The software is very easy to use. Plug in your iSight and turn it on. (iChat AV will launch as soon as you turn on your iSight. I recommend that you quit iChat while recording movies to disk.) Now launch iRecordNow, and you'll recognize that the interface sports the high tech metal pattern found on the barrel of the iSight. Initially, it may feel like that you don't have any controls other than the red record button. But that's not the case as you'll see here quickly. But first, let's get a video clip under your belt, then we'll explore a few of the options.

The iRecordNow interface is the model of simplicity. Just hit the record button and suddenly your iSight is a 30 fps video camcorder.

Start by clicking the record button and watching the video as it is captured in the preview window. Once you stop, iRecordNow will save your capture as a QuickTime file. Currently the default settings are Component Video - CCIR-601 at millions of colors and single channel uncompressed audio at 16 bits, 48 kHz. I think these settings are a good choice for your "master video", enabling you to later export compressed versions for other uses in QuickTime Pro. (Remember to never overwrite your master file with a compressed version.)

Now, about those additional settings... If you want to make a few A/V adjustments, you simple open the Camera Controls drawer (see the button on left side of interface?) to reveal a handful of useful settings.

iRecordNow Settings
You have basic image and sound adjustments in the side-opening drawer.

You'll notice that in the free "preview version" of iRecordNow you don't have the option to select your audio source. There's a workaround for that. First, quit the application. Then open your Sound Preferences panel, click on the Input tab, and choose the source you want. You can use the internal mic on your Mac (argh!), the iSight's builtin mic (not bad), or an external mic going through the Griffin iMic (best). Now relaunch iRecordNow and it will use your selected audio source.

Sound Preferences
If you want to change audio sources, simply quit iRecordNow and choose a different source in your Sound Preferences panel.

QuickTime Broadcaster users will be happy to hear that iRecordNow remedies an audio bug that causes "out of sync" audio when using the iSight's internal mic. After many tests with iRecordNow, I didn't experience any of those syncing problems at all, regardless of which audio input source I used.

iRecordNow provides you with the option to capture video at 320 x 240 or 640 x 480. At the moment, your only frame rate option is 30fps, but I suspect that will change with the final release. One of the things that impressed me was the quality of the capture. The overall image is crisp and clean, and the video is smooth. iRecordNow also doesn't seem to tax my 667 Mhz TiBook the way that QuickTime Broadcaster does.

Tip! Capture "Tracking" Footage with iRecord Now

So now that you have iRecordNow configured and ready to shoot, what can you do that's interesting beyond the standard "talking head" shot? Try putting your camera on the move with what's known as a "tracking" shot.

Put your laptop with iSight attached on an office chair that has wheels and compose your shot. Once you start recording, slowly push the chair along side a subject on the move, such as a walking toddler, or roll the chair toward a stationary subject such as two people talking. (This can become your substitute for a zoom lens!)

Since the iSight is an autofocus camera, it should be able to keep the image nice and sharp as your roll along. Review your footage, make the necessary adjustments, and shoot another take. Hollywood has been using the tracking shot for years to add visual interest to movie projects.

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