If you own a Sony camcorder and have a computer hacking bent, Eagletron Inc. has an interesting hardware/software package for you. The PowerPod-LANC offers a way of robotically panning and tilting your camcorder under your computer’s control, as well as using the camera’s video in all popular video-chatting and webcamming software and for computerized surveillance. The product also uniquely gives you control of your camcorder’s zoom lens from software, providing the kind of crisp, detailed video at long or short distances that has until now been the sole province of specialized analog cameras priced out of the reach of the home user.

Eagletron is known for its webcam pan/tilt units and for the original PowerPod, which first offered camcorder owners robotic pan tilt. PowerPod-LANC adds the optical zoom control feature, which is specially geared towards Sony camcorders.

The term “LANC” in the product’s name refers to a connector found on almost all Sony camcorders that accepts lens control commands, generally coming from handheld controllers on tripods and booms that elevate a camera for overhead views raising the ordinary zoom buttons out the operator’s reach. The PowerPod-LANC innovatively uses this little-known Sony connector to take control of the camcorder’s zoom lens and offer users digital control from software.

If you’ve been thinking about a surveillance system for your home or business and already own a Sony camcorder, the PowerPod-LANC saves you money three times over. Instead of buying a specialized surveillance camera, you use your existing camera. Instead of paying for videotape, you store video digitally on your computer’s hard drive using Eagletron’s surveillance software. And robotic pan tilt means you don’t have to buy multiple cameras to cover a large area; instead you pan and tilt the camera to look at specific areas as needed.

Eagletron’s software lets you view video and control pan/tilt/zoom remotely over the Internet so you can keep an eye on things from anywhere in the world. You can also set up the PowerPod-LANC to move your camcorder through a custom-set series of positions continuously while capturing video stills to disk at regular intervals.

Alternatively, you can use the PowerPod-LANC for video chatting, video conferencing and webcam video broadcasting over the web. Either you or your chatting partner can click onscreen buttons to move the camera and zoom in or out. Remember that the optics of a camcorder are far superior to those of common USB webcams, so that the video image your Internet friends receive is exceptionally high resolution. The bundled software lets you use the camcorder video in any software that works with webcams, e.g., Microsoft and Yahoo instant messaging systems, NetMeeting, iFriends, etc.

The PowerPod-LANC is a compact dome shaped unit on which your camcorder mounts easily but securely. It interfaces to your PC via a USB port. Your camcorder connects separately via Firewire, while a short cable from the PowerPod plugs into the camcorder’s LANC port to provide the lens control feature. To use it, you’ll need a Windows PC with USB and Firewire ports and a Sony camcorder with a LANC port (look for a connector with a stylized ‘L’ next to it).

You can read more about the PowerPod-LANC and other Eagletron products at www.trackercam.com. The price for the PowerPod-LANC, including software is just $179.99 and is available for online ordering from the web site.