August 1996

Cyber News and Reviews is a monthly column published for parents, teachers & business owners featuring kids educational software reviews, business software reviews (small business & home business), games and entertainment articles, a free resource since 1995.


VideoShot Video Frame Grabber, FlexCam and Educational CDs from Discovery Channel Multimedia

VideoShot Video Frame Grabber from VideoLabs

Anyone interested in an inexpensive alternative to a scanner should consider VideoShot, a parallel port video capture device, from VideoLabs. It's a fast and inexpensive way to capture video images for use in graphics applications on your IBM PC or compatible computer. Plug any video camera into this palm-sized box, plug its cable into your parallel printer port connector, plug your printer cable into the rear of the VideoShot connector (so you can keep your printer connected and available) and you're ready to copy stills from live video. If you don't have a camera, you can capture frames from any previously recorded video tape. Just plug the output of your video recorder into the VideoShot, and you're ready to go. The capture resolution is 640 by 480 lines (24 bit) in true color.

Installation went fairly well. First you have to install three AAA batteries, plug the VideoShot's printer connector into your printer port and then install the software. It includes two diskettes: one contains a limited version of PhotoStudio (by ArcSoft), and the VideoShot driver software for Windows. After a quick installation, and a peek at the 85-page manual for PhotoStudio, I plugged my color camera into RCA jack on the VideoShot, and was ready to capture the world (okay, just my kids and objects around the house for now). Using the Acquire command in PhotoStudio, I tried to capture an image of my daughter, Sarah, jumping up an down on the couch. Unfortunately, the capture window was black and without an image. PhotoStudio found the driver but couldn't capture the picture. I knew the camera was working, and the batteries in the VideoShot were fresh, so I check the parallel port connector, and, sure enough, it was loose. I hadn't tightened the screws on the connector because they were difficult to get to, and it loosened when I plugged in the printer cable. After one firm push, I got it to connect, and from then on I was capturing color images of everything.

Image quality was good, though at times the image captured was too light, or washed out, and I had to adjust the brightness and contrast (using PhotoStudio) to compensate. Also, the colors weren't always correct, but they could be adjusted by capturing the image under different lighting conditions. Reducing the light seemed to improve the color image.

VideoShot retails for $229 and is available from your local computer dealer. For more information contact VideoLabs at 1-800-467-7157, or visit their Web site at

FlexCam: a Color Camera for Video Conferencing

If you'd like to participate in Internet video conferencing, then you need to buy a camera that will work with the several software packages now available. FlexCam, from VideoLabs, is one of several color cameras recommended for use with White Pine's CU-SeeMe video conferencing software. Also required is a video capture card to send the live video through the Internet. VideoLabs offers the Stinger (for the IBM or compatible) that will do the required work, retailing for $199.

Selling for $399 (and bundled with Enhanced CU-SeeMe), FlexCam is a high-quality color video camera attached on top of an 18" flexible wand. It uses a high resolution, high sensitivity, 1/3" color CCD camera with an adjustable focus, resolution 300 by 280 lines. Also, a sensitive microphone is built into the camera head. In a quick comparison to my Sony camcorder, FlexCam's image was as crisp and clear as the Sony.

The FlexCam can also be used in education, science, security, manufacturing and video production. For more information contact VideoLabs at 1-800-467-7157, or visit their Web site at

Enhanced CU-SeeMe Videoconferencing Software from White Pine Software

Once you have the camera and the video capture board, you need the right software for video conferencing. And White Pine Software offers just what you need with their Enhanced CU-SeeMe to connect you to people around the world using video, audio and a text window.

The software, for either IBM or Macintosh, is supplied on a single CD-ROM disc, or it can be downloaded from White Pine's Web site. Once installed, and connected to the Internet (either directly, or with a 28.8k baud modem), you can connect to, what they call, a "reflector" for video conferencing. This is a place on the Internet set up to act as a video conferencing location. Or you can connect directly to another individual for private video conferencing. The phone book is used to store the names or IP addresses of the reflectors or individuals you want to contact. And if you don't have a camera, you can still participate using either audio or text.

CU-SeeMe allows up to eight color or black and white images displayed at one time, and includes several other features. There's a chat window, when opened, you can type messages to the other participants, and view their response. An audio window allows you to send and receive audio, and adjust your volume. It also includes a participants window where you can view the names and status of the people on the reflector, including those without cameras, called "lurkers" and those with cameras, but hidden. Each picture displayed includes the speed of the data received and the frame rate. Most of the images will update frequently, so you can see movement, but this depends on the speed of the data received and the Internet connection for each picture displayed.

This is an exciting Internet application. Besides using CU-SeeMe for business video conferencing, it may be used in education and for connecting friends and relatives around the world. NASA has a reflector that shows live broadcasts from the shuttle and other missions. The Global Schoolhouse, in California, is running a reflector with camera in the classroom.

CU-SeeMe was originally developed at Cornell University, as freeware, for video conferencing with black and white cameras. Cornell licensed the product to White Pine Software, and they improved it by adding several features including color camera support, a phone book and the Listener, software to alert you to incoming calls.

Several inexpensive cameras will work well with CU-SeeMe including the color FlexCam from VideoLabs and the QuickCam (color and black and white) from Connectix. The FlexCam plugs into your video capture card for excellent results, and the QuickCam connects to your parallel port without requiring a video capture card.

Enhanced CU-SeeMe sells for $99. For more information, call White Pine Software at 1-800-241-7463. Or visit their Web site at

SkyTrip America from Discovery Channel Multimedia

SkyTrip America is not just your ordinary educational CD, but a multimedia journey through U.S. history, packed with information and activities designed for children ages 9 and up. You'll start your journey by selecting one of three ships available for the ride: a balloon, a hover jet or a propeller plane. After a video introduction from Irene Bedard, the speaking voice of Disney's Pocahontas, you're let loose to roam the United States. If you or your kids are interested in American history, then SkyTrip America is a title to consider.

This CD includes so many activities that your child could get lost in America for weeks. The presentation is excellent, using a form of virtual reality video allowing a panoramic view at each stop, controlled by the mouse pointer. As you view the area, items that have information will sparkle. Click on the item for information, or double-click for articles, videos and pictures. You move across the United States in one of two ways: flying from area to area, or by clicking the desired region on a map of the United States.

SkyTrip America also offers several games including the Pony Express mail game, a railroad game, a gold mine game and a hangman game. You can even explore a virtual ghost town where you can find and play some of the games. Another option allows you to keep a journal of your adventure, saving articles, videos, pictures and even notes that you take along the way. You even can take pictures, using a camera from your ship, as you view each area.

The CD is available for both IBM compatible and Macintosh multimedia computers with at least 8 megabytes of RAM and a double-speed CD-ROM drive. It also requires installing Apple's QuickTime movie player, which is included on the CD. For more information, contact Discovery Channel Multimedia at (301) 986-0444, or visit your local computer software dealer.

Professor Iris' Fun Field Trip: Seaside Adventure from Discovery Channel Multimedia

Professor Iris is no stranger to my 5-year-old daughter, who loves this soft-spoken puppet professor from the television show "Iris the Happy Professor" found daily on The Learning Channel. Now your kids can have some educational fun with this interactive CD featuring the puppet Professor Iris, teaching his puppet class about life and the world. Seaside Adventure is the second CD in the series, following the excellent activity-packed format of the first title, Animal Safari, for kids ages four and up.

After a minor installation problem, requiring a second installation attempt that worked, my daughter was at the computer again exploring this new Professor Iris interactive CD. It offers movies, music, videos, animation and sound effects, with games and puzzles that will fascinate and challenge your child for hours. The 10-page story is narrated by Professor Iris, while other characters offer different activities. The lovable Ms. Principal teaches vocabulary, Piano gets you the videos, Plant offers pages to color and Skeleton offers a surprise on each page when you click on his door.

The CD will work on either an 486-25MHz IBM compatible or Macintosh multimedia computer (Performa, Centris, Quadra or Power Macintosh) with at least 8 megabytes of RAM and a double-speed CD-ROM drive. With my system, a 486-33MHz IBM compatible, loading and running took minutes, but with the newer multimedia computers (60 MHz or faster) you'll be interacting with Professor Iris and his gang in no time. If you missed the first CD, Animal Safari, don't miss Seaside Adventure. In fact, if you can afford it, buy them both. You and your kids can't go wrong with this excellent series from Discovery Channel Multimedia. They may be contacted at (301) 986-0444, or visit your local computer software dealer.

Companies Mentioned

Connectix Corporation
2655 Campus Drive
San Mateo, CA 94403
(415) 571-5100

Discovery Channel Multimedia
7700 Wisconsin Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814-3579
(301) 986-0444

10925 Bren Road East
Minneapolis, MN 55343
(612) 988-0055

White Pine Software, Inc.
40 Simon Street
Nashua, NH 03060-9050
(603) 886-9050