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A webcam is a video camera that feeds or streams its image in real time to or through a computer to a computer network.
When "captured" by the computer, the video stream may be saved, viewed or sent on to other networks via systems such as the internet, and emailed as an attachment.
Improved video quality has helped webcams encroach on traditional video conferencing systems.
New features such as automatic lighting controls, real-time enhancements (retouching, wrinkle smoothing and vertical stretch), automatic face tracking and autofocus, assist users by providing substantial ease-of-use, further increasing the popularity of webcams.
For a more complete list see Comparison of webcam software.
The video streams provided by webcams can be used for a number of purposes, each using appropriate software: Most modern webcams are capable of capturing arterial pulse rate by the use of a simple algorithmic trick.
With very-low-light capability, a few specific models of webcams are very popular to photograph the night sky by astronomers and astro photographers.
Mostly, these are manual-focus cameras and contain an old CCD array instead of comparatively newer CMOS array.
The Webcam Social Shopper is one example of software that utilizes the webcam in this manner.
Webcam can be added to instant messaging, text chat services such as AOL Instant Messenger, and Vo IP services such as Skype, one-to-one live video communication over the Internet has now reached millions of mainstream PC users worldwide.