September 24, 2000
7:09 AM   Subscribe

Will this Kritter be the next step in web cams? It uses firewire, instead of USB and claims to offer 30 fps with no compression. Is the video phone here (and functional)? -g
posted by Taken Outtacontext (10 comments total)
I think it's a little ahead of its time. Sure it can do 640x480 at 30 fps, but who's got a 12 megabit/second connection to use it? I think stuff like this will be a reality when we all have fibre optic connections to the Internet. Even "broadband" as we know it now barely cuts it for the current breed of webcams. Most people are on an asymmetric connection (i.e. you can download faster than you can upload) and since using videophone application requires a two-way transfer, you're really limited by that asymmetrical upload speed.

I can't think of a useful application of the Kritter right now.
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 9:48 AM on September 24, 2000

How about inter-office video conferencing? You have to remember there is a market for people who use technologies that don't use them over a public network like the Internet.

You hook this into a decent 100Mp/s switched ethernet network and you'll get great results(or even gigbit ether). One place I could see using this is in a small company like mine where we have two offices that are a great distance away geographically and we're connected together through frame-relay providing all the bandwidth we need..
posted by djc at 10:46 AM on September 24, 2000

Yeah, but you don't need a firewire camera to do that. Don't get me wrong, firewire is great (I have a MiniDV camera which has a firewire interface), but I suspect you could do better in terms of optics or price/performance than the Kritter--especially if you have to buy a $200 firewire interface card for your PC first.

It's only recently that the cable price has dropped to something reasonable (firewire cables used to be $60US, just saw them for $11).
posted by plinth at 11:41 AM on September 24, 2000

Hm. Probably was talking out my ass just now... I don't really know about using it through a 100Mb/s switched ethernet network... I mean, wouldn't it simply be better to meet face-to-face??

And djc, I don't really know my networks that well. What's a frame-relay?? I guess if you had two offices far enough away with a high-bandwidth connection, there'd be uses for it...

My point was that it's probably too early to be useful for the mainstream user (i.e. the home user sitting at home on a cable modem/DSL)
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 1:00 PM on September 24, 2000

"especially if you have to buy a $200 firewire interface card for your PC first."

Of course, these days firewire cards can be had for much, much less. Adamation has a bundle which includes the Professional version of BeOS R5, their video editing software and a firewire card w/cable for only $129. If you don't need/want the software, you can find ADS Pyros for around $30-40.

On a more topical note, there are quite a few uses for cameras on a LAN. While walking over to meet someone isn't usually that big a deal, this sort of thing can be quite handy for people who work in large buildings and need to talk with people in multiple areas. 5-10 minutes here and there adds up over the course of a day...

(Consider also that many company campuses may have high-speed networks over larger areas where walking might take 15-30 minutes one way)
posted by adamsc at 2:17 PM on September 24, 2000

... I mean, wouldn't it simply be better to meet face-to-face??

Sure, theoretically, by why walk 100 yards to ask "Hey, what're you doing for lunch?" (or some equally simple question) when you can use FMV on the corporate LAN to do the same?

If I remember correctly, frame-relay is merely a method of sending packets across wires, like token ring or ethernet are methods of sending packets across wires. It's usually used for high bandwidth situations, since token ring gets hampered when a lot of data needs being sent, and ethernet ends up with a lot of colliding packets. Frame-relay provides data-sending windows, or "frames" for machines to transmit data in.

I can dig up a better description if you like, and I'm sure there are people who'll be able to provide much greater detail.
posted by cCranium at 2:57 PM on September 24, 2000

My laptop (Sony Vaio PCG-C1XS and I love it) has a firewire interface built in standard, along with one USB port and a PCMCIA slot and IRDA and a 56K Fax/Modem. (Think we got enough interfaces? No COM or LPT though; that's what USB is for.)

However, it's also got a built-in camera, which since it's directly on the computer bus is going to be even faster than any silly firewire toy.

Unfortunately, I don't believe firewire will ever be a big factor in the computer industry. Apple blew the licensing terms for too long, and once they finally came to their senses, USB had gotten going. Apple missed their window, and time lost is time gone forever.

An interface like this lives or dies on the number of devices designed to use it, and whether firewire is superior to USB or not, USB is winning the "design start" race. You go to a big computer store and you can find USB devices everywhere, but you have to search hard to find anything with a firewire interface. I currently have a USB CDRW drive, a USB flatbed scanner, a USB printer and three external USB 10G HDs, plus the USB floppy disk drive which came with the VAIO.

As usual, the reason is installed base. There are far more computers capable of using USB than of using Firewire, so the potential customer base for USB is vastly larger and it makes more sense as a target for products. Nevermind that Firewire is 50 times faster, USB has 50 times as many potential customers. It doesn't make any difference how fast a product is if it doesn't sell.

In the case of my computer, the reason for the firewire interface appears to be that some high quality digital cameras have firewire interfaces, and this permits you to upload pictures from them onto the PC HD in the field, clearing the camera memory and permitting further use. But USB would have served for this just as well; it's slower but it's not a time-critical application. The camera built into the computer is nifty, but it's only 640*480 and not high quality; it's really intended for teleconferencing, not for serious photography. So someone might take a high quality camera and one of these computers into the field, and periodically dump the camera onto the 12G HD built into the PC.

Me, I use it as a conversation piece at Starbucks. It's an "Oh, wow!" But then, this whole computer is an "Oh, wow!"

posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:59 PM on September 24, 2000

I could really see getting some high quality web video out of that thing and compressing down with the divx codec and sending it to your pals. The file size would be just as manageble as .mpg or .asf and would look much, much, sharper.

I don't know if you can do a divx live feed yet, but I'm sure someone is working on it right now.

posted by skallas at 12:14 AM on September 25, 2000

The argument of saving several groups of five minute walks through the day is specious: that time goes away anyway in other time wasting activities like making coffee, or gabbing with the admin or one of your coworkers, or trying to find that CD you need, or surfing metafilter. People don't work at 100% efficiency, at least not for very long. It's human nature.

The time loss for walking to ask someone something is in the noise. Try to eliminate it and it will come up somewhere else like a bubble in the wallpaper.

The kritter is a toy and nothing more. Accept it as such and buy it as such instead of trying to justify it with a tool usage.

(FYI - my current job had two offices separated by 110 miles. We had a few meetings using a USB based cam and our T1. It was really only useful for interviewing job candidates remotely. Otherwise, it was not a good tool. The phone lines worked fine).

posted by plinth at 6:26 AM on September 25, 2000

While I happily accept it as a toy, my boss won't buy it for me if I can't find some way or other to justify the expense. :-)
posted by cCranium at 8:29 AM on September 25, 2000

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