The Trouble With Webcams and Ubuntu Linux 04/07/09

Recently I ran into issues with using my webcam in Ubuntu. Specifically the video would freeze (or not appear at all) and the functionality was terrible (in that most features were not available). Needless to say, personally, I wish it would be something that the open source community could fix (I’m not a developer, so please forgive any incorrect opinions).

Here’s the scenario…

Hardware:

  • AMD 64Bit system.
  • Logitech USB camera (Fusion).

Software:

  • Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy).
  • Flash  LNX 9.0.152.0 upgraded to  LNX 10,0,15,3 (during this post).

In my particular case, I discovered that when using Flash to connect to a video chat, I’d get a pop-up window asking which webcam to use. It was a simple matter to select the USB based cam, wich was given the name “0x046d” (for selection). Sometimes it would work, most of the time it did not. I also found that Skype connections were working all the time. However, video quality was not that great and there was almost none of the software features available (that were available to Windows users).

Missing features (that the camera supported) were:

  • Face tracking (camera lens moves to keep your face in the center of the frame).
  • Rightlight 2 Technology (this fixes low, uneven, or glaring light automatically).
  • Built in mic (sometimes it worked, sometimes not).

Needless to say, I was a bit frustrated with the inconsistent performance in Ubuntu Linux. To be fair, I did test the camera on a Windows XP environment and found that it worked great and that all features were available (so I knew it was not because of poor webcam hardware). However, this in great part was facilitated by the software installation. It seems that Logitech has not made any drivers or software available for Linux. In fact, it seems there’s nothing available of Mac either. It’s just my opinion, but what kind of company produces products and dictates what operating system they can be used in. The world is rapidly changing and, it seems, there is much more (and increasing) diversity in the desktop environment, as such (in my opinion) Logitech should really sort out this issue as I think it makes them look bad. Ranting aside, this still left me with the issue of a great cam that had reduced functionality – simply because software was unavailable.

I found out that I needed to update my version of (64Bit) Flash. Apparently there were some issues that had been fixed since the initial Flash install. You can see what version of Flash you are using here: “Version test for Adobe Flash Player” and learn how to install Flash properly here: “Adobe Flash 10 64-Bit – Use the Alpha Version Instead?” – That post has been updated (read “Update Feb. 23, 2009″) to get the correct information – It’s not an Alpha version anymore.

While the update of Flash, did resolve some issues – Video works more consistently now. However, even though the mic did install in Linux, I have to use a seperate mic when using the cam in Flash. However, when using Skype, both video and the on-board mic work. Again, this indicate the issue is software based. Interestingly in Ekiga, nothing works! I’ve since dumped Ekiga as it has no use in my system.

Again, it seems to me that Ubuntu Linux support for web cams is somewhat inconsistent, however, I’d like to clarify one thing. In reality it is some vendors that are not supporting Linux, which is the crux of the issue. It would be nice if the open source and Linux communities could jump in and fill the gap that some vendors are failing to address. That said, I as the end user could better help myself by properly researching hardware before buyting it.

The following resources, I’ve found, are most helpful (and I hope they help you too).

Gspca/Spca5xx, Spca5xx-LE are web cams drivers that support a wide range of cameras. When reviewing the list of cams, pick the ones where the “support” column is green and says “yes”. Also ensure that the “quality” column contains five stars.

gspca driver on launchpad (bugs) helps fix a lot of issues with web cams. It provides more software updates and fixes as well.

Ubuntu Community Webcam Documentation contains some excellet resources (and probably should be one of your first stops?) One thing though, they suggest using Ekiga to test your webcam (as Ekiga is installed by default). That was not a good suggestion in my case (Ekiga did not work, but Skype and Flash did).

The Webcam HOWTO is a bit dated, but it will provide answers to some questions.

The IEEE1394 Digital Camera List is helpful to those who use a Firewire camera instead of USB.

Linux Driver for Quickcam USB cameras – Logitech Quickcam Fusion will help you get your Logitech Fusion working with Ekiga. This is a post I wrote just over a year ago, some things may have changed (and personally, I’ve learned a lot more since then).

Finally, for us Ubuntu Linux users, there’s a specific hardware compatability list that you might want to peek at here: “Ubuntu Hardware Compatability List“.

As for the functionality – which is application driven, again, it would be nice is Linux (Ubuntu), could at least catch up a bit with Windows and Mac! Doing so may further enhance its desktop viability!

For those interested in GPSA, there’s a great video (shown blow) that demonstrates how to install it:

Personally I’ve not tried it yet – But I plan to! :)

Other Related Resources:

If you have any good Linux webcam resources, have some experiences or knowledge that you’d like to share, please feel free to comment below!

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6 Responses to this article

 
Vadim P. April 8, 2009 Reply

Yeah, I was recently shopping about for a Ubuntu-compatible webcam. While no manufacturers advertised support, there is a list of them that work out of the box without any additional work on your part:

https://wiki.ubuntu.com/SkypeWebCams

 
 
UbuntuLinuxHelp April 13, 2009 Reply

@Vadim P. – That’s a nice resource! Thanks! :)

I find there was no real issue with using Skype. I did find however that using Flash was big trouble (and applications like Ekiga never even worked for video chats).

 
Jady L. April 9, 2009 Reply

Don’t forget that a big part of the issue might be related to the 64Bit version of Flash. I know it had a few bugs and Flash is not exactly the best solution for web cam video. That is why solutions like Skype have worked well (Flash is not used). Funny that you mentioned about Ekiga, I’ve never got it working (video) either. Ekiga is just a horrid app! Very horrid!

Just go to Ekiga’s bug page at https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/ekiga and you will see that hardly anything listed is fixed.

 
 
UbuntuLinuxHelp April 9, 2009 Reply

@Jady L. – Your comments about Ekiga – Ouch! While I won’t use it (because video does not work for me), there are others (I am sure) who use it with video. In retrospect (based on my experiences) I might revisit Ekiga when Ubuntu 9.04 stable is released. Again, I’m sure there are others who have it working with video.

I hear your point about the 64 Bit version of Flash though, I did bump into a bug that had something to do with it not properly recognizing Logitech (and I think Phillips?) camera chipsets (or something like that) – I wish I bookmarked the link to that.

 
Anonymous Bloke May 10, 2009 Reply

Hey man, good post.

Hardware support in linux is one of those things… it’s a miracle anything works at all if you really think about it. Webcams, printers and scanners are very problematic areas. A lot of different vendors do a lot of different things with their hardware, and reverse engineering every single one of them is a hell of a task. The number of hardware vendors that provide drivers for linux is minuscule.
Here’s my advice, from now one every time you buy hardware, check if it’s supported first because you know that if something is fully supported, then you never have to worry about it again.

Btw, you have some very good quality content on the blog, subscribed to the feed. cheers!

 
Eduardo November 20, 2012 Reply

Are desktop efcefts ever going to be included in GNOME by default? Yes, if we can get the compositor stable (and it needs to be really, really stable). People are working on it. More people working on it would be nice.

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