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01/26/2001 - Updated 10:27 AM ET

Making Web movies is easier than ever

By John Yaukey, Gannett News Service

Thanks to the popularity of two relatively new types of computer connections, Universal Serial Bus and FireWire, it's easier than ever to add video conferencing cameras, digital video cameras and video capture devices to your PC. Just plug them in and install the appropriate driver. There's no need to tinker with settings inside the computer or operating system. With more than 30 companies selling Internet conferencing cameras, competition is fierce, so look for bargains and rebates. Cameras often sell for less than their suggested prices.

Internet conferencing cameras

Logitech QuickCam video cameras ($50-$100, www.logitech.com) feature funky "eyeball" styling and software that makes it easy to broadcast your own movies (at www.spotlife.com). Only some QuickCam cameras are compatible with Macintosh computers, so check before you buy.

The 3Com HomeConnect camera ($149.95, www.3com.com) can capture up to 60 frames per second, twice as much as competing cameras. The HomeConnect is especially well suited for desktop video conferencing and video e-mail. The camera features higher resolutions than other video conferencing cameras, and adjusts automatically from bright to very dim light. See bright, clear images in lighting from full sun to birthday candles.

The Philips Vesta Pro ($100, www.philips.com) looks as though it's perched on duck's feet, but don't let the goofy appearance fool you. In addition to its built-in microphone, the Vesta Pro can be mounted on a special tripod to scan documents and convert them into text that can be edited in a word processor.

Weekend spies will love the X10 XCam ($200, www.X10.com). The XCam can fit in the palm of your hand and transmit crisp color video wirelessly up to 100 feet. X10 advertises the XCam as something you could hang discreetly in a plant.

Digital video recorders

Many small video cameras have undersized buttons that are difficult to use. Thankfully, the Canon ZR10 ($655-$1,000, www.usa.canon.com/) doesn't. With its handy features, good picture quality and simple controls, the small, easy-to-wield ZR10 is an ideal digital camcorder for the weekend videographer.

For more money you can get your hands on the Panasonic PV-DV600 ($1,200, www.panasonic.com). This model boasts a vivid, 114,000-pixel color viewfinder for realistic confirmation of your subject. The PhotoShot built-in, digital still camera lets you use the camcorder to take still pictures.

Both cameras use high-speed FireWire ports to connect to your PC.

Video capture devices

Don't like what you see on TV? Stream it into your PC and edit it. Pinnacle Systems Studio PCTV ($89, www.pinnaclesys.com), is a cable tuner that you plug into a free USB port to watch, record and edit TV on your PC. It's also available as a PCI card you can plug into your PC.

Pinnacle's Studio DV ($99) — a PCI card you install inside your PC — lets you transfer full-screen, full-motion digital video from your Digital8 or DV camcorder to your personal computer, where you can edit it. Choose your best shots and arrange them in any order, then add titles, scene transitions, music, narration, special effects and more. Create videotapes or digital video for the Internet or e-mail.