See Me Speak!

On July 28, 2003 I’ll be speaking at Web Design World in Seattle. My presentation is titled, “From Tables to Styles: CSS-Based Redesign.”

I'm also speaking at WebVisions3 in Portland on July 18. My presentation there is CSS, Markup and Standards: Back to the Future. Check out the Digital Web interview for a preview of the talk.

Off to the Pacific Northwest

Posts may be sporadic at best. Hope to see some of you in Portland or Seattle...

»plink« · July 17, 2003

Insight on the iSight

Like many other Mac aficionados, on June 23, 2003 I was busily scouring the web, trying to find the best source of up to the minute information on Steve Jobs’ keynote address to the developers at the World Wide Developer Conference. The demonstrations of Exposé and other Finder enhancements in Panther sounded cool. And iChatAV was pretty neat for what it was, but I seldom used instant messaging—what would I need video chat for?

I was anxious to hear about new hardware. The iSight was announced and again, it sounded like another cool device from Apple, but what I really wanted to know about was the rumored G5. Of course I was just as blown away as everyone else, even having seen the specs accidentally leaked by Apple a few days previous. Not having an immediate need for a new desktop (I’m looking at spring 2004), I simply blogged the event, and moved on with my life.

However, Steve Jobs and Apple have a way of creating insanely cool things that you don’t know you can’t live without until you see them. And I kept running into articles about the iSight and how cool video chat was. And one of them finally got me thinking about a real application that I could use. Even better, it involved work, so I wouldn’t be spending my own money on one.

I fired off an email to one of my coworkers with access to funds and managed to score a couple of iSights for videoconferencing from home or on the road.

I’ve had them for several days now, have tested them in a variety of situations, and I’m ready to share the results.

The Review Proper

Out-of-box Experience

Apple has increasingly become known for their attention to detail in the packaging of their products. The user experience truly begins at the time the box is opened. The iSight is no different.

It has become popular to document the out-of-box experience of Apple products and post the images to the web, enabling others to share vicariously in the joy of opening a new toy. When the iSights arrived, I thought I’d try my hand at creating an out-of-box experience. Some 2,000 visitors have already come along for the ride.

The cube shaped box is adorned with images of the iSight, and a few words to describe what it is. Upon removing the sleeve, the box opens like a clamshell to reveal 2 sections. One side contains the documentation, with the three included mounting options. The other contains the iSight itself, as well as a clear plastic tube to hold the iSight when you throw it into your laptop bag. Underneath these are the FireWire cable and two cable adapters that allow you to connect the iSight to the included mounts.


Once opened and out of the box, it was trivial to thread the FireWire cable through the mount, add the adapters and plug it into the iSight. The thin FireWire cable handles the video, audio and power, creating a very clean, single cable solution.

The flat-panel display and eMac/desktop mounts both have adhesive backs. The PowerBook/iBook mount includes a thumbwheel to adjust for the various screen thicknesses. If you don’t like the idea of putting adhesive on your computer equipment, you might be interested in some other mounting alternatives.

The first thing I noticed about the iSight was how big it was. It isn’t huge by any stretch, but somehow I was expecting something a bit more compact. Others have said it was smaller than they expected, so your mileage may vary.

After mounting it on my PowerBook and connecting the FireWire cable, it didn’t take long to recognize that the cheese grater look is more than an aesthetic thing for Apple. This puppy gets hot quick. In fact just a couple of minutes into our video chat from work to home, my wife commented on how hot the iSight was. When it is not in use it cools down fairly quickly. I wouldn’t want to place it in the storage container until it cools down, however.


When you plug the camera into your computer, it launches iChatAV. I don’t know what happens if you haven’t downloaded the free Beta. I would assume it gives an error message, prompting you to download. The first time you use the iSight you get a configuration screen, including a preview screen that allows you to adjust the iSight and make sure it is aimed where you want it. You can also access this screen from the Video pane of the Preferences screen (iChat/Preferences...). This pane also allows you to set your Microphone preferences and any limit on bandwidth.

There are now three buttons at the bottom of your Buddy and Rendezvous lists. One each for text (an “A”), audio (a phone icon), and video (a video camera icon). Highlighting a buddy and clicking one of these icons will initiate the corresponding chat. Also, your buddies have an icon next to their names when signed on that indicates what type of chat their systems are capable of handling, so there is no guessing.

It is a simple matter of clicking the phone or video icon during a text chat to initiate the corresponding chat, so it may be considered good manners to start with text and then move on to audio or video.

The Experience

Once I unpacked the iSights I took one of them down to some colleagues at the other end of the building so we could test them. Our building is big enough to have a few subnets, so I wasn’t able to test Rendezvous, but we were able to establish a good connection. The video was fairly smooth, and it was evident that proper lighting makes for a much better experience. Also, the blue glow on your eyeglasses is not very becoming.

Having established that it worked, I took both units home to try things out on my home network. I have a 500MHz TiBook from work and the 867MHz 12" PowerBook at home. Both are set up for wireless access via my WLAN that gets its broadband connection via cable. In addition to my .Mac screen name, I signed up for an AIM screen name as well.

An annoying side note is that less than 24 hours after signing up for the AIM name, I started receiving SPAM from Netscape and AOL. Even though I was careful not to check any boxes asking for email from them. And their preferences page for opting out of such messages in the future was very convoluted. I am sure many people would give up, wishing they knew how to write an email rule that would automatically send their offers of free AOL for a month directly to the trash.

So, now I am set up to test an AIM name and a .Mac name. Both laptops are accessing the ‘net via AirPort, and both are connected to iSights.

With iChatAV running on both laptops I am able to add the screen names to the buddy lists. An interesting, and cool, sidenote is that my buddy list from the few times I’ve used iChat on the TiBook shows up when I sign in with the same screen name on the 12". One click and I’ve initiated video chat.

The TiBook’s video is a bit prone to breaking up, while the 12" very seldom has any problems. Compression artifacts are certainly evident at times, but not the blockiness that sends my middle daughter into fits of laughter as my face drips off the screen in her view. Running CPU Monitor on both machines shows that all 500MHz are being put to use almost full time on the TiBook. On the 12" PowerBook the monitor runs between 50%-75%, rarely spiking to 100%.

Walking around the house presents little problem, although there are a few spots where the signal is consistently lost, even though the AirPort icon on the toolbar shows several bars of strength.

I also tried Rendezvous for the connection, via the wireless access point (an Xrouter Aero). The results were essentially the same, so I unplugged the Xrouter and set up a computer to computer network. The main difference here was that the range was greatly reduced before the signal dropped out. This makes sense since the router effectively doubles the theoretical range from 150’ to 300’. I was pleased to see that the 802.11b AirPort card in the TiBook had no trouble communicating with the 802.11g AirPort Extreme card in the 12".

Audio was pretty good on both ends, but a bit of adjusting was necessary. There is a slight delay, and with the camera mounted fairly close to the speakers, it picks up your voice on the other end, so you hear a bit of an echo, depending on how loud the other person has their volume set. Feedback loops are possible; closing the iris on the iSight or clicking the mute button in iChat (or on the keyboard), will stop it.

The dual element microphone does a good job of sound suppression. After testing things out at home, I took one camera to work with me and did a test from home to work. This was key since it is the main reason I was able to convince my employer to buy the iSights in the first place. My wife and daughter were using the 12" at home, and I had the TiBook at work. Several minutes into the chat the fan on the 12" came on, and my wife asked me if something happened at work. Then she realized the sound was on her end of things. I never heard it on my end. My office has 3 fairly loud computers in it that she was not able to hear during the chat.

Bottom Line

I do not have experience with any other FireWire web cam, so I can’t make any image quality comparisons. If you wear glasses, things are going to look a bit strange to you because of the blue reflection from the computer screen. For me this caused a perception of poor quality. I realize that it’s not the camera’s fault, but I do wonder if there is some algorithm that Apple could use to remove the blue, or at least tone it down some.

As I chatted with my family, I commented that I wouldn’t be surprised to see my dad enabling my sisters’ families to be able to use this technology. For less than $1000 you can have an eMac and an iSight. All that is left is a $50/month broadband connection and watching the grandkids grow up from 1000 miles away becomes a reality. He’s already looking for an excuse to buy a G5.

In fact Apple should consider creating a “keep in touch” bundle. If they do (even if they don’t) I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a lot of families will be unwrapping similar setups come Christmas this year.

I bet Apple is already working on the commercials.

»plink« · July 10, 2003

iChatAV and iSight

I just finished a video chat with my wife and daughter. I was at work, they were at home. It counted as work because the reason we have two iSights at work is so I can videoconference in when I am working at home. So this was a test to make sure the signal would get through all the various firewalls, routers and AirPorts. Other than a short AIM outage when we first tried to initiate the video chat, things went pretty smoothly. I’ll write up a more in depth report later. For now here are a few related links.

»plink« · July 9, 2003

Random Links

These aren’t really random, just not necessarily related...

»plink« · July 9, 2003


I brought the iSights home and we had fun playing with them doing thorough testing on the PowerBooks. In addition to the AIM assisted network test, we also checked out Rendezvous networking both via the Wireless AP and a computer to computer network. Later today we’ll test the link from home to work. I hope to have something written up later this week. In the meantime, check out these screenshots of Panther from Railhead Design. This short QuickTIme movie of the dynamically resizing icons in the new Finder is pretty cool, too. [Note: the site may be down due to extreme popularity, though he promises to have it back up soon...]

»plink« · July 7, 2003

iSight, part 3

They’ve arrived, and the unboxing has been documented...

»plink« · July 3, 2003

iSight, part 2

»plink« · July 3, 2003

Announcing Gnuhaus Productions

For many years I have done a variety of things from web design, to speaking and writing, and I am beginning to do videography and editing. Now that I have had this domain name for almost a year, I figured it was time to do something with it. So, today marks the official opening of Gnuhaus Productions, bringing all of my skills under a single banner. Feel free to peruse the site (valid XHTML 1.0 strict, CSS 1 & 2, not a table in sight). Many of the links take advantage of the Fahrner Image Replacement technique, and you might recognize the tiled background image as one of squidfingers’. I am rather pleased with the photography section, and the video section is still being updated, but the first of the month seemed like a good time to roll out the new site...

»plink« · July 1, 2003

You appear to be using a browser that does not implement style sheets correctly, or you have turned style sheets off in your browser. If it’s the latter, turning style sheets back on will greatly enhance your experience on this site, and many others on the web. If you are using an older browser (such as Netscape 4) you may wish to know that there are standards compliant browsers available for all platforms. See the Web Standards Project’s Browser Upgrade Campaign if you would like to find one for your particular needs. Otherwise, rest assured that you are seeing all of the content that everyone else is - it just doesn’t look as pretty...