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How to Choose a Webcam

by Paul Sanders

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Screen-mounted webcam on a laptop

Video chat with friends and family around the world with a webcam. Video-sharing and video chat capabilities are showing up in more and more devices, but you'll probably find it easiest to video chat by using a webcam with your laptop or desktop computer. Below, you'll learn some of the basic web camera features to watch for. Then you can choose a web cam that captures high-quality images for video chat, recordings and still photos.

Choosing a Webcam:

  1. Megapixels: Webcams, like other digital cameras, measure picture quality by the number of pixels the web camera's sensor captures in each frame of video or each still photo. One megapixel is equal to roughly a million pixels, and it's pretty common to find a webcam with more than 2 megapixels. A webcam above 3 megapixels will produce a fine picture, but beyond that you may not notice a large difference in image-quality.

  2. HD: High megapixel counts don't necessarily translate into amazing video. Often video resolution on a webcam will be lower than its photo resolution. A true HD webcam will record video in 720p resolution or higher. For a computer monitor, this is more than high enough to produce crisp, clean video images. Higher resolution webcams can take up more system resources while recording, however.

  3. Frame rate: Jumpy video can be distracting. More frames-per-second (fps) will create smoother movement as you video chat with friends or family online. Thirty fps or higher will produce smoother video, especially if you have a high-speed Internet connection that won't introduce lag into your conversations.

  4. Video effects: A lot of webcams include software which may feature various picture effects, including virtual foregrounds, text, animations and other extras. These aren't essential to a web cam, but they can be fun.

  5. Attach-ability: You'll want to place your web cam in a location near your screen so that you're looking directly, or nearly directly, into the web camera. This gives the appearance that you're talking directly to the person you video chat with, rather than off to one side. Look for a webcam with an easy attachment clip or mounting base that will provide stability while being easily adjustable.

  6. Interface: Most webcams connect via USB cable to one of your computer's available ports. But a wireless webcam can cut the cable out completely by using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to connect to your computer. Either method might require that your wireless webcam communicate through a wireless adapter plugged into your computer.

  7. Platform support: Any webcam you purchase will probably be PC-compatible by default. If you use a Mac, you'll want to check the compatibility of both the webcam drivers that enable your Mac to communicate with the camera and the included webcam software.

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