When is a camera not (quite) a camera?

Over break, we ordered a number of new G5 iMacs for a lab used here at UMW by the theatre department. One feature we were excited about (and planning on using for our project with Gregg Stull’s class) was the built-in iSight camera. We were imagining that the cameras would allow students to do low-threshold videocasting for their class blogs. To keep things simple, we were planning on having students use iMovie to capture the video. (For students who wanted to push the envelope, we also have “real” DV cameras available.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when the iMacs arrived in my office yesterday, and I discovered the the installed version of iMovie does not accept a signal from the iSight camera. My research on this matter seems to suggest this has something to do with the fact that the built-in iSight camera is connected to the comptuer via USB (the stand-alone iSight–which I have and which works fine with iMovie — is connected via Firewire). iMovie HD 5 only seems to recognize Firewire cameras. I’m not sure if I entirely buy this “answer.” At least one site I found suggested that if you connect an external Firewire DV camera to the computer, disconnect it, and then try to use the built-in iSight, iMovie will miraculously start recognizing the iSight signal. I have no idea why, but it’s certainly not a solution for us (students don’t all have DV cameras — that’s why we were planning on using the iSights).

I feel like I should have discovered this before the computers arrived, but, honestly, it never occurred to me that Apple would ship a computer with a built-in video camera and video software that is not capable of receiving a signal from said camera.

Oh, and last week Apple released the new version of iMovie (version 6) which DOES recognize the built-in iSight, but we don’t qualify for an upgrade to this version because we ordered these computers in December.

There are potential work-arounds. We could order iLife (with the latest version of iMovie) or copies of Quicktime Pro. Alternatively, I discovered that Quicktime Broadcaster (which is a free download) will allow you to capture from the iSight. But Broadcaster isn’t a terribly intuitive piece of software, and the intuitiveness of iMovie was exactly one of the reasons we wanted to use it for this project.

I like Apple, but I think they royally screwed up on this one.

1/20 Update: I just got off the phone with Apple support. The rep I talked to said that “in their defense, Apple had never claimed that iMovie worked with anything but Firewire cameras.” To which I replied, “Yeah, but Apple also never made it clear that the built in iSight wasn’t a Firewire camera . Why would I have assumed it wasn’t?” Basically, he could offer me neither an answer or a solution. Next stop: Sales.