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So it's essentially a digital device where a CCD is an analog one.

CMOS chips work faster and are cheaper to make in high volume than CCDs, so they're now used in most low-cost cellphone cameras and webcams.

Photo: Unlike the webcam above, which you can focus by twisting its lens, this Microsoft Life Cam VX-800 has a preset focus.

If you look closely, you can just see the power indicator light (top left, not currently lit up) and the microphone (top right).

This information is turned into a number that can be stored on a memory chip inside the camera.

Thus, taking a digital photograph converts the picture you see into a very long string of numbers.

A webcam is a bit like a digital camera and works much the same way.

Both initially convert incoming light rays into electricity, much like photoelectric cells (used in things like "magic eye" intruder alarms or restroom washbasins that switch on automatically when you put your hands under the faucet).

The stand can simply rest on a table or open up to clip on top of your laptop.

A webcam is a compact digital camera you can hook up to your computer to broadcast video images in real time (as they happen).

But a CCD is essentially an analog optical chip that converts light into varying electrical signals, which are then passed on to one or more other chips where they're digitized (turned into numbers).

By contrast, a CMOS chip does everything in one place: it captures light rays and turns them into digital signals all on the one chip.

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