3com BigPicture Video Phone Camera & PCI Capture Card Review

3com BigPicture Cam

3Com first released the Bigpicture Video Phone in 1999 to meet the demand for high-quality videoconferencing over PC's. The Bigpicture Video Phone (or Netcam as it is sometimes referred to) and PCI capture card system were first geared towards both home and business uses. Since the bt848 chipsets are compatible with the Video4Linux drivers and the fact that the included capture card uses a bt848 chipset, this netcam can be utilized in Linux, and is fully compatible. I had big hopes when I first received this cool gadget, and I'm definitely not disappointed.


NTSC Color Camera Features:

  • Very cool ergonomic design.
  • Superior focus; adjust focus from a distance of 0 cm to infinity.
  • High quality 24-bit video images.
  • Contrast/backlight compensation to maintain correct light exposure.
  • Digital Signal Processing (DSP) provides optimal video performance under fluorescent light.
  • External controls for easy adjustment independent of software.

Capture Card Features:

  • Capture full color NTSC video resolution: 24-bit, 320x240 pixels at up to 30 frames per second.
  • Supports 9 video formats from 160x112 pixels all the way up to 640x480 pixels.
  • PCI-bus master interface with 88 times the bandwidth of USB, for excellent quality image and high performance: up to 30 frames per second video capture.
  • Capture card supports input from your Netcam, camcorder, VCR, laser disc or DVD player.


The Bigpicture Netcam and PCI capture card come with some great installation instructions that the non-technical user should praise. This "Installation Map" covers the physical installation of the PCI capture card into the computer, and should guide even the novice user with no problems. The device setup in Linux was not altogether difficult after I did some quick research. Since the capture card uses the bt848 chipset, which is compatible with the Video4Linux drivers, device setup was a snap. I was on my way after a quick Kernel re-compile and a cup of coffee.

Strike a pose!

Oh man this little baby rocks! The weird, egg-shaped netcam and PCI capture card perform extremely very well under Linux. I tested this camera using the Xawtv software package and the X Windows System. The movement capture is smooth and not choppy like some of the USB cameras due to the high bandwidth of the PCI bus. The video captured is very clear and the camera focuses easily.

I am absolutely addicted to the "negative" button on the back, which you can make some pretty spooky images for a personal webcam. The highest frame rate is at 320x240 but it still performs quite well all the way up to 640x480. With the use of PCI capture cards you get a much clearer picture and faster frame rate at higher resolutions, you are also able to view input video from camcorders, VCRs, VDP, as well as DVD players. Think of it guys. Hookup your DVD and watch The Matrix on your Linux desktop!

I Can't Do It Captain... My MIC doesn't have the Power!

The microphone included in the Bigpicture Video Phone is not spectacular. You need to be quite close to the camera for it to work at all, and the quality of the sound is not great. I would suggest picking up a microphone headset (battery amplified is best) from your nearest computer/business supply store, and supplement this instead. Then you can sit back and relax and make some cool movies.

Hold Onto Your Wallet!

The suggested retail price for the Bigpicture Video Phone is $159.95 US. If you are someone looking for a quality netcam, with a fast frame rate, and the possibility of watching movies or using other video input sources aside from the netcam, then it is well worth the $160. If you just want a netcam to play with or you simply want to setup a webcam of yourself, you might want to find something a little cheaper.


The Good - Pros
  • Super high quality picture and frame rates

The Bad - Cons
  • A little pricey
  • Microphone has bad performance

The Ugly - Issues
  • N/A

The Verdict - Opinion

Fantastic camera. Worth the extra money for the quality.

Linux Compatibility:
Cost & Value: