What to do with an Apple iSight in 2020

The famously overbuilt original Apple iSight with Firewire Interface was a very early Webcam. Launched in 2003 it featured 640×480 Pixels resolution at 30 Frames per Second. Since most Systems at the time where not capable of encoding video in that resolution in realtime, the camera even included a video-encoding chip. So along with the f2.8 lens it made a very good webcam for the time.

Ridiculous! What is this!

However advancements where huge in this time. And as 2006 saw the launch of the original Macbook series with integrated iSight, which was delivering superior quality and was cheaper, it was quickly obsolete.

In 2020 as we are in the age of social distancing and home office, demand for Webcams is high and the webcam production cannot keep up with the demand hence prices for webcams are increasing dramatically reaching triple the original amount.

image: idealo.de

The question then comes to mind: what about the iSight? Well first of all the interface is an issue. I have two computers with Firewire 400 Interface: a 2008 Mac Pro running Windows 10 as a World of Warcraft gaming rig (which works out great) and a 2005 PowerBook G4 15″ running Mac OS X 10.5 Sadly there are no drivers for the cam on Mac OS X 10.15 (which I have on a separate volume) nor for Windows 10 to be found. So the Mac Pro is out.

The pre-MagSafe power adapter with indicator light. MagSafe was the superior power delivery system Apple Notebook utilized before switching to USB-C.

That leaves us with the Powerbook G4. This beautiful beast of a Laptop, that is nowadays not even capable of opening up youtube in under an hour let alone play any video on it. Yet the G4 chip with its 1,67 Ghz was a beast at the time and could handle almost all tasks thrown at it in 2005.

The glorious, lit keyboard of the Powerbook G4 in all its glory. The keys are still a joy to type on. There never was a better keyboard on a mobile device since that!

My idea is as simple as it is convoluted! I will connect the iSight to the Powerbook and playback its video fullscreen. Then I will connect my USB-Capture-Card to the Powerbook using a DVI-D to HDMI adapter. I will then be able to select this as a display on the Powerbook and as a capturing device on my actual working rig. The following chart perfectly illustrates what will happen:

So if you happen to have all the cables necessary to connect this up and you have a video capture device, you can do that too! There was one thing holding me back though. How do you display the video signal by the camera on the Powerbook? Luckily Mac OS X 10.5 was introduced at a time, where apple was still aimed at professionals and creatives. So the OS disk actually contains a copy of XCode. The development environment for the operating system. This is what you need in order to create your own application.

XCode 3 and Interface Builder in full harmony.

So I found this tutorial online which strange enough is still hosted on apples website. If it is not, feel free to download it here. All this application does is display a QTCaptureView and piping the signal from the Webcam into this view. The window can be maximized – though not fullscreen – and the view scales appropriately.

The resulting image.

What is nice about this: It is a talking point. Why have you …what is? Are you on an old mac? Then again, why do we see the desktop? What is going on. And then you can explain …. GOTO 1

Feel free to download the source for this project on github.