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What Is a FireWire® Webcam?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A FireWire® webcam is a device that is capable of transmitting still images and video to a computer by means of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 1394 interface. Unlike other video cameras, these devices usually transmit live video and images instead of storing the data for later transmission. Due to the high speeds typically associated with FireWire® connections, these devices are often capable of providing quality video streams of 30 frames per second (FPS) or more, and relatively high resolutions. Many FireWire® webcams are compatible with the Instrumentation & Industrial Digital Camera (IIDC) data format, which allows them to function without proprietary software or drivers.

Web cameras are video cameras that are designed to transmit live images to a computer, rather than storing them for later playback or transmission. These cameras can typically take still images or full motion video, though the actual frames per second can vary depending on the hardware of the camera, the transfer protocol and the computer. The term "webcam" refers to the fact that these cameras are often used to transmit images and video to the Internet for video conferencing, social media websites, and other purposes. These devices can also be useful in many other applications, including robotics and security.

The three main interface standards that are used for webcams include Ethernet, universal serial bus (USB) and FireWire®. USB webcams have been popular historically, but a FireWire® webcam can offer some benefits that are primarily related to the way that the IEEE 1394 interface standard works. A FireWire® webcam that uses the slower version of the interface standard still has enough bandwidth to stream video that has a constant 30 FPS. The FireWire® standard also deals with the system bus differently than USB, which can help these devices transmit a steadier live video stream.

There are two main versions of the IEEE 1394 standard that can be found in FireWire® webcams. FireWire® 400 is the slower version of the standard, and can be identified by a four or six-pin connector on a webcam. A FireWire® webcam that uses the faster version of the standard can be identified by a nine-pin connector. It is typically possible to connect a FireWire® webcam with one type of connector to a port with a different number of pins using an adapter.

Some FireWire® webcams include proprietary drivers and software, but these devices are often compatible with the IIDC data format. This means it is usually possible to plug a FireWire® webcam into a computer, regardless of the operating system, and have it recognized as an IEEE 1394 webcam using generic drivers. Proprietary software can be necessary for some devices, or to access certain device-specific features.

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