Wednesday, March 05, 2008

AtekSoft applications bring interesting new features to PPC phones...

With a Pocket PC, can you do...

Video Out?

2-way over-IP video chat?

There are some interesting new doors that can be opened using AtekSoft's WebCamera Plus software to someone with a little engineering creativity.

I have been playing with the software lately, which claims to "Transform your PDA or Smartphone to [a] high-resolution web-camera" (a feature that some of you may recall from AtekSoft's earlier software release, CoolCamera).

Basically, what this means is that the PPC software will broadcast to your PC, in real-time, whatever your camera is currently able to see.

Using their desktop software, the stream of video is received and viewable (see pic on right) at a respectable frame rate for a webcam (my tests averaged 4-5 frames per second).

The purpose of this software is that windows will accept the incoming video as a standard webcam device, and be instantly compatible with most webcam applications (such as skype, netmeeting, etc), thereby eliminating the need to purchase a separate webcam for this purpose.


That's a pretty cool concept and all, but webcams are so inexpensive... in fact, many low-end webcams can be bought for about as much a license for this software! So, why would someone want this?

Well, for starters you can carry it with you when you travel and have one less thing in your bag. But that's not why I find this worth writing about. Where it gets REALLY interesting is when you take into consideration that WebCamera Plus can connect to the host PC not only via USB, but also over Bluetooth or IP (WiFi, 3G, etc)!

Basically, you don't HAVE to be in anywhere near your computer to view what's on the phone's camera! If you've got an unlimited data plan for your phone, or perhaps a WiFi network, you can put the phone down, connect to a computer via their IP address half way around the world, and view whatever it is currently seeing!

This is where things can get creative.


Some Additional Ideas/Uses for WebCamera Plus:


-Remote SpyCam
Since I have 2 little kids of my own, the first thing I thought of was using it as a makeshift baby monitor.
I could put the phone down next the crib, and watch it in a window on my pc as I work.
Before I was married, my first thought probably would have though of using this as an impromptu security camera. Either way is useful.

-Video Out
As soon as people start using Pocket PCs for media, you inevitably start seeing people ask if there is any way to get Video Out (assuming to connect to a TV like the iPod video).
There have been a very select few Pocket PC devices that supported external video connectors in the past (notably the classic Toshiba models), but most current devices are simply not capable of doing it.
There have even been some hardware add ons (via SDIO slot) to try and achieve this, however they fall sadly short of expectations (the device linked to here does not actually display what is on the screen of the PPC, but rather displays slides from special presentation software that you have to run on the device. Basically this only replaces using your laptop for powerpoint presentations).

WebCamera Plus has a feature that allows you to broadcast the contents of your display instead of the live camera feed. The result? Whatever you're doing on your device appears on the big PC screen in real-time!

The sample video here shows a few seconds of the Curious George movie playing on my desktop, video being output from my Sprint Mogul using CoolCamera Plus. video
Surprisingly, the framerate for this went as high as 6fps.

Now, this is clearly not the ideal way to watch video (original video is a smooth 29fps), but it WORKS. And its good to know if you want to do something connected to a large screen, such as for a presentation.

-Two way video conversation
This one I'm going to have to get back to you on. I have been able to do it, but it would be video only, no sound, which means you'll have to mime to your other party.
Also, there is a great deal of lag/delay doing it this way, and its a VERY convoluted backwards way of doing this.
In other words, I'm sure I can come up with a better way, but this is what occurred to me first, and its what I tried... and it WORKS.

Basically, it involves using a remote desktop application (logmein.com is my preference because the framerate is as close to real time as I've ever seen for a remote desktop app), and skype & webcam plus receiving software installed on a host computer somewhere.

This is what I did:
  • On the Windows Mobile device, set the network settings of WebCamera Plus to be the host computer's IP address.
  • Log into the Host PC using logmein (or app of your choice). Be sure to leave WebCamPlus running in the background.
  • You should see your webcam live stream on the remote desktop, albeit delayed and a bit slower than normal. If the remote desktop application is not fast enough to keep up with the video (looks more like a slide show), this won't work. Therefore, I recommend a fast app (like logmein) and a solid 3G connection.
  • Using the remote desktop, start skype, and call someone who has a webcam as well. You will now be able to see the incoming stream on the remote computer (slow and delayed, but I got a few frames per second, enough to see what's going on), and they will see whatever you are broadcasting from your phone on location.
Problem with this, aside from the lack of sound, is that at least in my case, the Mogul only only a rear-facing camera, which means I can't see them while they see me (have to keep turning the phone around).
But it IS cool to show someone something, for example "Hey, you'll never believe what kind of car is parked behind my office! sign on skype, I'll show you". The person can see what you're pointing at, and you can see their reaction.
Yes, I know, this is very much a less-than-ideal solution, but it IS something that can be improved upon. As I said, this was just the first thing that came to mind. Someone could eventually write some sort of desktop server app to do this better, perhaps send video back to your phone using ORB instead of viewing it over remote desktop... who knows. Let me know if you've got any brighter ideas!