A do-all webcam that can float between computers sometimes seems an elusive goal. It’d be just the thing for video installations and live video at VJ/live visualist gigs, but usually you run into annoying driver issues. It’s frustrating that any webcam would even require drivers in the first place. USB webcams are essentially the same, yet each vendor requires a separate driver, often mucking up your system with extra bloatware. That’s why the Creative Labs Live! Cam Optia (not yet available but coming soon) looks so refreshing:

Live! Cam Optia [Creative Labs product page]
Via Gizmodo, via the USB wonderland that is Everything USB

This looks like a perfect solution for video projects I’m building in Processing (with the awesomely cool JMyron) and Flash/ActionScript.

Creative Labs’ webcams are nice to begin with, compact and with above-average image quality. The hardware is USB 2.0, supports 640×480 30fps operation, and manual focusing — that’s the exact formula you want for installations and motion control. (Okay, yes, I realize most of the PC webcam market isn’t using their webcams to control interactive music patches by waving their arms in front of a custom motion analysis patch, but … you love weirdness, Webizens, don’t you?)

The good news is, thanks to USB Video Class support, you’re assured the Optia will work without drivers on Windows XP SP2 and later, and should also work on Linux and even Mac OS X.

Freedom: Another Word for Nothing Left to Install

Now, the driverless part: the Optia supports the USB Video Class, so like other class-compliant USB devices (QWERTY keyboards, mice, joysticks, USB audio interfaces, USB MIDI controllers, etc.), you should be able to plug the thing in and have it work without installing a single driver — if your operating system supports the class specification, that is. In the case of devices like mice and audio interfaces, Windows, Mac, and Linux all support pretty much everything. The USB Video Class is a newer spec, though, so Creative Labs lists only Windows XP and Vista support, starting with XP SP2.

The USB Video Class is not some invention of Microsoft; it’s a fully-ratified spec supported by the USB Implementers’ Forum:

USB Device Class Specifications (available free, unlike the MIDI Manufacturers’ Association’s MIDI spec, I’ll add)

Enough of the specs, though. Can you use this camera and other class-compliant cameras outside Windows?

Linux support — in progress

The answer is yes. There’s already a UVC project for Linux, which uses the Video4Linux API (which in turn should be supported by the upcoming Flash 9 Player for Linux and possibly Processing/Java, as well, at some time in the future):

berliOS Linux UVC Driver and Tools

Mac support — yes?

What about Mac OS X? That’s a tough and archaic question that requires special expertise in this area, meaning it’s time to turn to — erm — Dr. Google. (Why am I bothering with finishing my doctorate given that Google will always be smarter than me? I don’t know.)

Strangely enough, the answer comes from a GNOME blogger named Ronald S. Bultje trying to install Linux on a MacBook Pro, using its internal iSight. Surprise, surprise: the iSight appears itself to be build on the UVC spec, and is sorta kinda supported on Linux as a result. On the Apple lists, someone has luck with another UVC webcam. It looks to me from other discussions on the Apple lists that, if UVC was implemented at all, it happened some time around OS X 10.4.

There’s really only one way to find out for sure, of course, which is to use the time-honored and highly technical test of getting one of these, plugging it in, and seeing if it works. But I’m hopeful. I’m going to pick one up, so I’ll let you know what happens.

It’s about time Mac users in particular abandon the tyranny of the external iSight camera and realize they have choices in hardware.

Anyone had luck with this or other UVC devices? Any USB Implementers out there? (Usually when I shoot off my mouth on one of the CDMs I wind up hearing from someone who invented whatever I’m talking about, etc.)