Webcam picture-in-picture with ‘WebcamMax’

Have you ever watched one of those fancy “webinars” or live video podcasts, and wondered how they broadcast “picture in picture” with different camera angles, or clever switching between cameras, desktop demonstrations and pre-recorded video?

I always thought fancy video switching hardware was required, not to mention some big, big bucks.

But… not so!

I was perusing the Ustream.tv help centre today, and saw a topic which immediately grabbed my eye: “…quickly and easily add scrolling text, logos, RSS feeds, special guests windows, picture in picture, pre-recorded video…”

Woooa, are they serious?  It can’t be that easy, can it?

Yep, it sure is.  Straight away I clicked the link to download WebcamMax for the PC.  This is a nifty utility which gives you significantly more control over your webcam and imaging devices than the default Ustream “broadcast applet”.  My mission was to set-up a “picture in picture” video stream, and it only took a matter of minutes to get this working with WebcamMax.

Setup and installation

Download the 8 MB installer.  Setup is fairly painless and after clicking the “Try” button (you get a 30 day free trial) you’re asked to nominate which applications you want WebcamMax to control video.  I unticked all except UStream.  Then you’re presented with an intuitive GUI which displays any video source that’s currently connected to your PC.  In my case, this was video from a traditional camera, piped through an external USB device like this one.

Next, click on the ‘Sources’ button.  The ‘Main Source’ is your primary video input, and ‘Webcam’ is selected by default.  Look to the right and you’ll see that you can select any other video source simply by clicking the combo box.  Now I’ve also got an in-built webcam in the netbook, which appears as ‘USB video device’.  I switched to that and suddenly I’m looking through the eye of a different camera.  WebcamMax makes it easy to switch between cameras or video sources in this way.

Click the combo to select your main source video device.

You can also click other items in the list, such as:

  • ‘Screen’ – live-streams the desktop, by following your mouse pointer or sending the entire screen;
  • ‘Movie’ – streams a movie of choice;
  • ‘Picture’ – sends a JPG or other image (defaulting to your ‘My Pictures’ folder); and
  • ‘Color’ – which lets you set a background colour of any desired shade.

Picture in Picture

But how good is this? Click the button at the bottom of the list control labelled ‘PinP Source 1′.  The same controls appear, duplicated, for a different video source.  Wow!  In no time at all I can display my netbook webcam as a picture inside the main picture.  No expensive video amplifiers or professional switching equipment required!

Picture-in-picture, just like that!

You can get much, much cleverer than this.  Play around with the advanced options and you can move the position of your “picture in picture”, maintain proportions or re-scale, and even have images display as a slide-show.

But wait, there’s more!

I only needed WebcamMax to do “picture in picture”, but it does heaps more than that.  By opening the ‘Effects’ dialogue you can simulate a chroma-key function with different backgrounds.  You can add lighting and shadow effects, grid lines, digital snow, scrolling text… the list goes on.  Select from local or online effects libraries.  There’s even a record feature which lets you write an AVI file to a local disk.

But how does it work with Ustream.tv?

WebcamMax emulates a video device in software.  This means that when you start the Ustream.tv broadcast applet, the WebcamMax “device” will appear in your Video Source drop-down, like this:

The Ustream.tv broadcast applet.  Note the 'Video Source' combo -
just select WebcamMax Capture and you're done.

Simply select WebcamMax as your video device and start broadcasting!

Road test

We’ll put WebcamMax through the hoops over the next few weeks at Tech Talk.  We’ll let you know how it performs, and we’ll listen to your feedback too.  One thing we’re mindful of is not becoming too distracted by the studio webcam; it is, after all, designed to supplement a radio programme, and 99% of our listeners don’t watch the webcam.  We’re hoping to change that, and we hope that using cool utilities like WebcamMax will help us along the way.

Visit the website: http://webcammax.com/

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