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.)

  • http://www.jaymis.com Jaymis

    This approach is so refreshing. I was extremely unhappy to discover that the driver download for the Logitech webcam I was borrowing is 33MB! That's crazy! Especially considering that I can plug my DV cam in and use it as a webcam with no drivers whatsoever. Yay creative.

  • http://newmedia.walkerart.org/ Justin

    I wonder how it compares to the iSight in quality. I'd also be interested in seeing how the mount is. The iSight is a good camera (if you're commited to the mac, of course), but the mount is weak. If this thing has the ability to go on a tripod or just to have a big flat surface on the bottom, for gluing/taping, that would be really nice.

    Interestingly, it lists Highest Still Image Resolution: 1.3 Megapixel 1280×960 (software enhanced). I wonder if that means it is using a bigger sensor, or it is, as it says, (software enhanced).

  • PJ

    Bought one in hopes it would work on Mac. (iMac G5, no built-in camera, OS 10.4.8.)

    Power lite on camera goes on when in Webcam-capable app (Skype, Quicktime Pro, even iChat with usb enabler shareware). All recognize the name of the camera, as does System Profiler, but show black or empty video.

    Had a friend try it on PC under XP SP2 and he had same result. This seemed good news-maybe it's just this one that's defective.

    Echanged for new box, but same behavior on Mac when I got it home. Boo-hoo.

    Couldn't be 2 lemons in a row could it?

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Damn… well, it could be. It should at the very least be supported on XP SP2, because that most definitely has the class-compliant drivers and is *specifically* singled out by Creative. (And I've definitely seen two DOA units in a row.)

    It's also possible the issue is on software side, but that's unlikely with that many apps…

    Did you try contacting Creative?

    I've been meaning to try one of these myself; I'll let you know what happens.

  • http://dizzysound.net/blog chris gillespie

    Anyone had any luck with UVC subsititutes for iSight? I'd hate to buy one at the going rate for an old G4 eMac.

  • Matt

    Check out this site – it mentions a few UVC cameras that are working. Note that they will not work in iChat without some shareware application at the moment.
    http://www.macintouch.com/readerreports/isight/to

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Oooh, thanks, Matt! I'll try to check a couple of those out and will report back. I hadn't heard about the QuickCam Pro 5000.

    Some of these I think are not UVC-compliant; my QuickCam Pro for Notebooks definitely didn't work on my PC sans-drivers.

    The Logitech Windows drivers are so awful that I'd be as inclined to go class-compliant on PC as Mac.

  • Kajsa

    Hi there,

    I just decided to buy a CREATIVE Live!Cam Optia and try it on my mac (iBook G4). At first, nothing happened when I plugged it in, but after downloading a trial of iChatUSBcam, the computer recognized the Optia and the webcam itself lit up in blue, like it is supposed to when the videofunction is running.

    Unfortunately, the image was pitch black. and thats where I am now folks.

    Tell me again, how difficult can it be for webcam producers to include a driver for mac? – we all know the first one who do will recieve good business.

    /K

  • Roy Koch

    I have Live! Cam Optia it works on my G5 power Mac in iChat and iVisit. although I had one or two panics when adjusting the video settings it seems to be working okay.

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  • Gizmocat

    Everybody!

    You need Mac OS X 10.4.9, as lowest version, to get a UVC USB Webcam to work on a mac without any additional software.
    Since 10.4.9, iChat will recognize a UVC USB Webcam as a if it were a iSight.
    I have a Creative Live! Cam Optia AF ( AF=Microphone, Autofocus ), and i can assure you all that it works perfectly!
    The webcam is even better then the external iSight. It shows colors much better, and it got a warmer picture then the iSight had.
    I wish you all good luck. :)

  • Jamesdt

    Have just bought a Creative Live! Cam Optia Pro and was told by Creative that it was completely compatible, plugged it in and it seemed to work, although picture a little dark, thought lets try those backgrounds they have in Leopard and so went into ichat, page 1: a little strange, not sure whether working properly or not, page 2: fisheye certainly impressive, but then thought ,lets go to Yosemite, did what I was told, but instead of transforming myself back in time 20 years the bloody program crashed. So like any good little novice, I phoned 1st Apple, who told me to go to the Creative site for an update driver, sorry but nothing there, so contacted Creative again and was told, like it says on the box, only windows compatible, Ah! but I said somebody at Creative has already told me that the optia pro is compatible, I mean that's why I bought it. As yet story still being written, will update when further info is available.

  • http://www.mac-compatible-web-cam.com docmac

    2008 might be the year the whole Macintosh webcam mess gets solved. There's a short hitlist of UVC compatible, It-Just-Works on a Mac USB webcams at <a href="http://www.mac-compatible-web-cam.com” target=”_blank”>www.mac-compatible-web-cam.com — Creative Labs UVC based Opita USB cameras should be a refreshing change from Logitech's mess of varying internal sensors, part #'s, model names that just lead to endless frustration. At least there's a half-dozen clear-cut cams now that just Plug-&-Play on OS X. More to come as Windows Vista native UVC support changes the manufacturing landscape.

  • http://www.mac-compatible-web-cam.com MacWebcamGuy

    The correct link for compatible cam list mentioned above is:
    http://www.mac-compatible-web-cam.com/

  • BillS

    I bought Creative Optia AF for my G5 OS 10.4.11. Video works on Skype very well. The sound is just a rumble and not intelligible to the person at the other end of Skype. Any comments?

  • Nates

    I plugged this into my G5 10.4.11 and it worked immediately. I'm still waiting to give it a test run with my buddy. We are used to the isight and will be able to tell whether or not the quality is there. I tested it quickly with someone I never talk with and he said there was a bit of an echo… I'll write more later.

  • jo

    Hi I just bought the creative optia web cam after being told that it is compatible with the Mac. I plugged it in to my system and the image was pitch black. Can someone help me or suggest me how to adjust settings to get it to work!

  • log

    anyone know of a UVC drive download for MAC? my mom is still running 10.3.9 & can't get her webcam working . . .

  • rocko

    I have the perfect solution for this. stop hating windows and get a windows laptop or pc and you wont have to buy junk to possibly make them work for you.

    nice support mr jobs.

  • http://www.uvccompatiblewebcams.com Docmac

    This original 2006 post is a bit out of date. The original Optia has now been replaced by the Optia PRO and AF models. Creative has also released the IM Pro webcam that is one of the more afforable known UVC compliant webcam as well. (Making a total of 3 Creative cams currently shipping in 2008 that are Mac-UVC compatible.)

    For UVC cameras you've GOT to have USB 2.0 ports and run AT LEAST OS X 10.4.3 – these days there's no point in running anything less than 10.4.11 with updates anyways. USB 1.x Macs 800mhz or less are getting left in the dust.

    Regardless of what cam you buy, ecamm's iUSBCam or iGlasses software is the best $10 you'll ever spend to get better control over your cameras brightness, color, etc.

    Doc