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Last Updated: Friday, 8 September 2006, 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK
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Rob Freeman
By Rob Freeman
Click tip-ster

Rob Freeman, Click's very own Mr Fixit, troubleshoots your PC problems and helps you get the most out of your computer.

The world's first webcam went live in Cambridge, England in 1993. It showed a coffee pot.

The scientists in the University of Cambridge computer lab had to walk down several flights of stairs for a coffee, and it was annoying if they did so only to find the coffee pot empty.

So they hooked up a camera so they could see the status of the coffee pot before starting the journey.

Click viewer Murray Liddell from France asked:

I'd like to use my ADSL broadband and webcam to videophone my father, who is in New Zealand, without having to wait for the picture to refresh itself every half second. Is this possible? What software do I need?

You have set yourself a task there because even with your broadband the video data has got a long way to travel between France and New Zealand, and the packets of data travelling between the two might arrive at different times adding a delay to the call.

Plus, if your father does not also have broadband you will be waiting a great deal longer than half a second for each video frame.

As for software, if you use any of the instant messenger programs you may find you already have the means to make a videophone call, since MSN, Yahoo and AOL instant messengers are all video compatible now.

If you are on a Mac running OS X, then you have the cutting edge iChat software built in.

If you do not like to use the same software as everyone else you can use the ever-popular Skype, or Google Talk. They use a plugin called Festoon to enable the video features.

In most cases, you need to have the same software on each end of the call - personally I get rather frustrated about this.

If you are on MSN, you cannot chat to friends on other systems unless you are also running that system's IM software.

I know several people who have to have three messaging apps on the go at once. They hog disc space and memory, and who wants to keep three different address books running?

Want to know why you can pick up the phone and call any other phone in the entire world? Because the phone system is standardised.

If only some of these big companies could conform to an instant messaging standard, we would all be a lot better off.

Have a look at Jabber, who are trying to arrange just that.

But before you do any of that you have to have a webcam, and you will want to know what is useful, and what is just marketing hype.

Martin from Warsaw in Poland got in touch with a query:

I am planning to buy a webcam, but can't make up my mind whether it should be a CMOS or CCD device. I'm told that CCD works better in poor light. And what about the speed? USB 1 or the faster USB 2? My internet speed is about 150kb/s

CCD and CMOS are the types of chip inside a digital camera which detect the light, it is these which take the picture.

CCD - a charge-coupled device - is a tried and tested technology and gives a very high quality picture.

However, a CMOS chip is cheaper and simpler to produce, because it uses the same manufacturing technique as computer chips, which are Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductors.

CMOS is also more efficient, which means your batteries last longer, however up till now it has always been thought to give an inferior picture to a CCD.

This may not be the case any longer, with new companies developing new imaging techniques.

One of these is Foveon in California, who have a CMOS imaging chip which they claim rivals the quality not just of CCD, but of film.

USB speeds will not make a difference and I do not think there is a huge amount of difference in a CCD or a CMOS when it comes to a webcam, but there may be when it comes to price.

Have a look at the picture quality in a shop if you can, or have a look at reviews online - ZDNet have a dedicated webcam review centre on their site.

As for the Cambridge Coffee Pot cam, that piece of internet history was switched off on the morning of Wednesday 22nd August 2001, when the lab was moved into a different building.

The coffee pot was sold on Ebay and was reported to have fetched over 3,000.

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