Quick Review: PC Chips’ X-Eye Webcam

A quick visit to Frys Electronics last weekend left me with (yet another) webcam. But not an ordinary webcam: this is an utrla tiny cam, created specifically to mount on laptops!With the Sonix module The webcam is a USB 1.1 device, that can do 352×288 at 30fps. It has a small button to take snapshots and the Windows driver also supports the TWAIN interface. It has a 1 meter USB cable, and the “head” of the webcam can rotate around itself (even when mounted). Check some high-res images of the webcam here. Please excuse the dark screenshots on this article, it’s night right now that I grabbed those and light in the room was not very bright.

Of course, the quality is nothing to talk about really. It’s a standard cheap webcam. But it has two features that makes it special:

First, it’s the fact that it is specially made to be able to get mounted on laptop LCDs and by being so small, it makes it extremely convenient when traveling. The camera also comes with a “stand” in the case you want to use it as a standard desktop camera.

Secondly, the price. You just can’t beat that $11 it costs. For its features and looks, it is a no risk purchase.

Now, regarding support, the camera is supported on Win9x and 2k/XP. It is not supported on the Mac, not even via third party projects. Regarding BSD, there is a driver for the previous generation of the chipset for NetBSD/FreeBSD, but not directly for this camera (should be easy to hack on though and add support for it). The Linux situation is a bit complex:

With the sn9c102 module The device is based on the “Micronia/Sonix” chipset (PID 6029) and it has two Linux drivers: the one that comes by default with the Linux 2.6.x kernel, it’s the module named sn9c102. Problem is, this driver only supports v4l2 and also it has a kinda non-standard PIC format (“bayen”). This means that only Gnomemeeting-CVS/pwlib-CVS support it fully (and pwlib needs to be configured with –enable-plugins –enable-v4l2). KdeTV, Zapping and XawTV have support for v4l2, but don’t support the PIC format, so no cake with those yet. Also, none of the controls seem to work yet with Gnomemeeting.

Applications like gqcam, Camorama, Motion, the current stable Gnomemeeting and older KDEtv/xawtv apps don’t support the v4l2 API, and so to use the camera with them, you will need to use another driver: the sonixcam module. You will need to get the version of CVS which has support for this camera, and also have somewhere the full source code of the kernel as the driver uses some private API from the kernel (and you need to edit its .c file to give it the right path to a kernel header file). But it builds without a hassle, and it works with more apps than the v4l2 module (it’s just the Brightness control that doesn’t work right).

So, if you have a laptop, and if you don’t mind messing up with your Linux, this webcam is a great purchase, especially at this price.

The webcam was tested on LinuxCertified’s LC2430 laptop with Arch Linux.


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