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USB Video Conferencing with Panther

by Wei-Meng Lee
12/23/2003

If you're one of those lucky chaps who can afford to buy a FireWire video camera such as the Apple iSight, then using iChat AV is truly a joy. For those who don't quite have the budget for one yet, then the next best solution is to get a cheap USB webcam, or repurpose one you already have.

Unfortunately, Apple is not very enthusiastic in supporting USB webcam users. Unless you are patient enough to wait for Apple to do something about this (see the online petition), you should really explore the workarounds for getting iChat to work with USB webcams.

In this article, I'll show you how to do just that. This research was driven by my own desperation to press back into service a Logitech USB QuickCam (see Figure 1). In Jaguar, the solution wasn't too difficult (there are drivers that allow your webcam to work in Mac OS X); however the release of Panther further complicated the matter because it broke the existing drivers.


Figure 1. The Logitech USB QuickCam.

So, to make a long story short, here are the steps to get your webcam to work with iChat in Panther:

  • Find and install a Mac OS X driver for your webcam.
  • Install the Application Enhancer utility.
  • Install iChatUSBCam module.

Installing a Driver for Your Webcam

The first thing you need to do is install a driver for your webcam so that Panther can recognize it. You have two options here:

For this article, I'll use the free driver from Macam. There are some problems with installing Macam on Panther, and so you need to download a fix under the header "Macam driver for Panther fix!". Be sure to copy the macam.component folder to the /Library/QuickTime folder.

Testing Your Webcam

Once the Macam driver is installed, it is useful to test your webcam to see if it is working properly (and also to preserve your sanity troubleshooting all the problems later on). You can use the VideoViewer to test your webcam (see Figure 2).


Figure 2. Using Video Viewer to test your webcam.

Installing Application Enhancer

If you do not have Application Enhancer already installed on your Mac, you should now download and install Application Enhancer 1.4.1 from Unsanity. The iChatUSBCam module that we will install in the next section is an Application Enhancer module; hence we need to install it now.

To check if you have Application Enhancer installed, look into your System Preferences window and locate the APE Manager icon (see Figure 3).


Figure 3. Locating the APE Manager icon.

Installing the iChatUSBCam

To ensure that iChat recognizes your USB webcam, you need an application enhancer module known as iChatUSBCam.

At the time of writing this article, the current release of iChatUSBCam (v1.02) does not work with Panther and will cause your Mac to behave erratically. Fortunately Ken Aspeslagh from Ecamm network has kindly sent me a beta version of iChatUSBCam version 1.1 that addresses this problem. You should be able to download (and purchase) version 1.1.1 by the time this article is published.

You can download a demo version of the iChatUSBCam module or purchase one for $9.95. Once iChatUSBCam is downloaded, you will see iChat enhanced with the iChatUSBCam module (look in your System Preferences, under the APE Manager icon) (see Figure 4).


Figure 4. Viewing the iChatUSBCam module.

Now launch iChat. If everything is installed correctly, you should be able to see the green video icon next to your name (see Figure 5). Click on it to see a preview of yourself.


Figure 5. Previewing myself through iChat.

To initiate a video conference with another user, simply click on the video icon of the other user. If the other user does not have video conferencing capability, you can also initiate a one-way video conversation (see Figure 6).


Figure 6. Initiating a video conference with another User.

Summary

In the process of preparing for this article, I encountered several errors that I think are useful to share with you here.

  • First, be sure to install the fix for the Macam driver; if you don't your webcam may not work properly. Worse, you may have problem booting up your Mac after a restart.
  • If you have problem booting up your Mac, make sure you unplug the USB webcam from your Mac. In my experience, this will remove the problem and let your computer boot up properly.
  • Restart iChat (or your Mac) if your webcam cannot be detected.

That's it folks! Have a roaring good time with iChat and Panther!