I recently sprang for an iSight, sold on it by a demo conducted by Eric. The product itself is a classic Apple widget; the very experience of opening the packaging is satisfying.

Alas, a bit more time spent with the product reveals some shortcomings.

  • The default video chat application, iChat AV, is not cross-platform, limiting the user base. I do wish to note that the ease of use and quality of signal for iChat AV is astonishing.
  • The iSight’s default video settings are not well suited for low-light situations (such as my desk area).
  • The iSight’s video settings are not adjustable from within a stock install of iChat AV. Frustratingly, they are readily available in a range of other software applications, including Apple’s own Quicktime Broadcaster. You can brighten the image and fix the color balance, but the settings will not be saved when you switch over to iChat AV.
  • The three clear acrylic mounts that come with the camera are of limited utility, being very specifically designed to meet mounting requirements for current Apple products.
  • iChat AV does not ship with the camera, but rather is available either as a bundle with OS X 10.3 or as a standalone application available via $30 purchase only.
  • The lack of a large installed user base makes searching for reliable solutions to these irritations quite time consuming.

Fortunately, all of these shortcomings are addressable, with the exception of the unbundled iChat AV. Formerly, Apple offered a demo version that operated on older systems. That demo expired on January 15, and there’s a storm of controversy on Apple’s support boards about the already-premium priced camera coming without the basic software required to use it. Judging by Apple’s previous solutions to this sort of thing, I would be unsurprised if Apple decided to make iChat AV available online to registered iSight owners for free, sometime soon.

There are a few third-party mounts available (the SightFlex looks particularly cool) for the camera, and of course many hacks to improve the flexibility of the stands as shipped.

Personally, I built a little box-like shelf out of cardboard and velcro to attach to the front lower bezel of my monitor. Eventually I’ll refine it a bit and publish plans and instructions here.

A third-party program called iChatUSBCam ($9 online only) enables fine-tuning of the video image in iChat – and, more importantly, I think, enables USB-based web-cams and video-inputs to operate with iChat AV, which otherwise only accepts firewire video input. Considering that the iSight – and other firewire-enabled video solutions – generally go for well over $100, while USB web-cams can be picked up for a song, interested parties might wish to pursue this route as an alternative to obtaining the iSight proper.

So that brings us to the toughest problem, the lack of cross-platform opportunities for iChat AV. A well-informed friend notes that given Apple and AIM’s partnership, now that AOL is not embargoed from producing a video-chat application, we should expect to see an interoperable video-conferencing application in the next release of AIM for Windows, and possibly in AIM for the Mac, if such a product is being maintained.

But what about right now?

There appear to be three options. Two are dual-platform video chat applications, iVisit and iSpQ. I noted messages from users of both applications noting that they functioned, and messages from users of both applications discussing the difficulty of setting the applications up.

A third option explicitly supports not only cross-platform video-conferencing but video-conferencing with users of NetMeeting, Microsoft’s video-conferencing application. What prodigy is this?

It’s the in-development open source project XMeeting. The application looks like it might be even harder to configure and set up for non-technical people than the two mentioned above, but the Holy Grail – interoperability with the de facto business standard – might make it worth swimming upstream for.

2 thoughts on “iSight info and research

  1. In my years on the commercial side of collaboration, we didn’t find Netmeeting to be a real challenger in most organizations, frankly. There was some penetration in parts of enterprises, but it never really stuck in a lot of places. I suspect that this lack of traction led to MSFT’s retiring the product. That said, per the press people did use it, but people who wanted (and knew they wanted) faster text or application oriented collaboration didn’t really care for it.

    I can think of only one or two cases where it was a killshot, or interop with it was.

    Now, MSFT’s collaboration server is the new beast to deal with from Redmond as a competitor. Among others – in the enterprise, its a varied and fascinating market.

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