Ever wanted to use your Pocket PC as a Web or a spy camera? Now, here’s a working solution!

I’ve been constantly receiving questions about whether Pocket PC’s can be used as Web or even spy cameras. Up until now, my answer was negative. Fortunately, now, this has changed.

ATEKsoft has just released a new version of CoolCamera, a revolutionary Pocket PC application that offers the ability to use almost all Pocket PC’s with built-in cameras as Web or even remote spy cameras at a very good speed and quality over even plain USB, Bluetooth or GPRS/EDGE mobile phone connections. You no longer need to bring your web camera with you any more (or even purchase one) if you have a Pocket PC with a built-in camera and you’d like to want to use it as a web or surveillance camera. Also, you can forget about having to buy a, say, specific Wi-Fi spy / security camera if you don't need the specific features of the latter (remote controllability - rotation, zoom... -, built-in infrared and/or visible light source etc.). That is, if you, say, only need a children-bedroom, remote camera communicating with your desktop/notebook PC via USB or any kind of wireless technology (including the above-mentioned Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and mobile phone-based communication technologies), you may want to opt for using a Pocket PC. This can be extremely helpful in many cases, particularly while on the go where you may want to leave as many gadgets at home as possible.

As the desktop part of the application suite uses standardized Windows interfaces (that is, Video for Windows (VfW) / WDM), the camera in the Pocket PC behaves like a standardized video source under Windows and, therefore, any desktop application being able to accept standardized video inputs will be able to use it.

Availability

The application is available here and costs $14.90 (locked to one Pocket PC device - that is, you must purchase a license for all of your camera-enabled PDA's if you want to deploy the application on more than one of them).

The trial version has a time restriction of 25 seconds; after this, the video transfer will stop. It can be restarted by just pressing the Action button (the button in the center of the D-pad on most models), unless you reassign this functionality to another hardware button.

Supported Pocket PC models

HTC Magician, Alpine, Apache, Prophet, Wizard, Universal and Tornado; HP hw6515, F-S Pocket Loox 720 and some other devices not listed.

As can be seen, almost (there’s no Asus A730(w) in the list, for example) all new Pocket PC (Phone Edition) models are supported. (I have no information on whether add-on SD/CF camera cards are supported or not, though.)

Supported desktop applications

Almost everything that accepts standard video sources: both communications apps (for example, Skype, MSN/Live/Yahoo Messenger), and video capture/edit/broadcast applications (for example, VLC Media Player, Windows Media Encoder, VirtualDub, WebcamXP).

Real-world testing

I’ve tested the camera functionality between two desktop PC’s, using my HTC Wizard and Pocket Loox 720. I tested both MSN Messenger 7.5 and Skype 2.5. Everything worked flawlessly, in every possible combination.

Other types of communication

Fortunately, the application is pretty flexible, communication-wise: its communication model is completely TCP/IP-based and also supports non-local connections as can also be seen in this screenshot (the IP can be changed by going to Settings/Edit config.txt on the PDA). This means the Pocket PC and the desktop PC the Pocket PC sends its contents to may be completely separated from each other (they can even be situated far-far away from each other, communicating via the Internet) - unlike the case with traditional USB web cameras, which must be cabled and locally connected to the desktop PC.

Maximal resolution

The resolution isn't constrained to low-resolution screens - you can even crunk up the resolution to 1280*960 as can be seen in this screenshot.

Problems

In the current, tested version (1.12.5),

  1. it's not possible to use the built-in light (if available) on any of the tested devices (there's not even a menu item to enable this)
  2. some of the advanced functionality doesn't function on some of the devices. For example, on the Pocket Loox 720, the image adjustment (brightness etc.) and control (flicker filtering, ambience, effects and, most importantly, the night mode) don't work at all (these all work on the HTC Wizard, on the other hand). The lack of the night mode is a big letdown for PL720 users.
  3. only images are communicated, no sound; for capturing sound, you'll need other equipment. This isn't a problem with local Web camera functionality - but it can be a problem in spy/surveillance camera usage

Example screenshots

Installing the application on the desktop

The desktop server, showing the captured screen of my HTC Wizard and my Pocket Loox 720

Setting up the video source (choosing the right video source – the other one in the screenshot, Conexant Capture, is the video input of my TV card) in Skype

Webcamera functionality in action in Skype

...and in MSN Messenger

Verdict

This is a highly capable application. If you would like to use your PDA as a video source for Web camera, communications or spy/surveillance functionality, make sure you check it out.

UPDATE (09/04/2006): PPCT frontpage

Yup, my webspace provider still hasn't fixed the file upload problem, which makes it impossible for me to upload the screenshots. Will need to give them a call.

I don't have any information on the CF/SD support. I don't think there is any (otherwise, the official homepage of CoolCamera would have mentioned it).

BTW, you may want to give a try to MS Portrait - it supports most external cameras and, to a certain degree, can be used as a remote camera (but in no way as flexibly as CoolCamera).

Article slightly updated; images uploaded and available.

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