If you own a laptop, you probably own a webcam too. But what you may not realize is that it has plenty of potential outside of Skype, FaceTime, and the other chat apps you've been using it for. Here are three alternative uses to consider, all made possible with free software your webcam's built-in tools.
Your webcam can keep an eye on your property even while you're not there. If you configure the cam to upload images or video using something like Yawcam, then you can tune into your home feed from the office or the other side of the world.
Whether you want to watch your pets or your driveway, it's a useful solution for maintaining your peace of mind. What's more, if anyone does break into your home, you'll have a snap of their face safely stored on the Web. It's easier to pull off if you have an external webcam, but you can use an integrated one too..
You can use your webcam to film any kind of movie you like, but because its range is probably limited to a single room and desk, stop-motion shorts are the obvious (and easiest) choice. Get together a cast of Lego minifigs, set up your miniature scenery and let your imagination run wild. You should be able to take snaps with the webcam's bundled software, but MonkeyJam is a good freeware option for creating stop-motion clips.
If your webcam's software has the ability to snap images at regular intervals (and most do) then you can put together a time lapse video. Track the passage of time in your garden, for example, or snap a picture of your face at the same time every day to store it for posterity.
Ever wanted to share your opinions on the state of the tech industry or the NBA? Setting up a video podcast channel on YouTube is easy and free—you can even upload clips straight from your webcam if you want to, no extra software required.
For more advanced podcast maneuvers, get hold of a software package such as ManyCam, which lets you get creative with some picture-in-picture effects. You could add video narration to a tutorial video or some gaming footage you've put together, for instance. ManyCam comes with a stack of tools and features you can use, and is just one of a host of robust options.
Any other good non-chat uses for a webcam we've missed? Sound off in the discussion below!