Webcam Buying Guide

An online video chat is the next best thing to getting together in person. This webcam buying guide outlines your options and gives you a clear picture of what to look for.

Webcams 101

A webcam installed on your desktop computer or laptop allows you to connect with family, friends and work colleagues anytime, anywhere. Toss in HD camera technology and fast Internet, and the image will be crisp and clear, like a good TV signal. Webcams have become essential business tools, whether for employees to video conference into meetings from home on flex-work days, or for companies to hold interoffice meetings without the travel costs. You can also use a webcam for distance classroom education to upgrade skills and take courses. It's impossible to watch every nook and cranny of your home at all times. Security network cameras are a great way to keep an eye on your kids and monitor your valuables. 

Types of Webcams


Integrated Webcams

A built-in webcam is a standard feature on most laptop computers. The tiny lens is integrated into the frame, usually at the top of the screen, and the device drivers are pre-installed on the operating system. Most of the integrated webcams found on laptops are stationary, meaning they point straight ahead and lack the ability to pivot or scan the room (unless you manually move your laptop). Desktop computers, with the exception of all-in-one desktops, have separate monitors, which seldom have integrated webcams. If your monitor doesn't have an internal webcam, you can buy an external webcam separately, install the software and plug the device into your desktop tower.

External Webcams

If you’re buying an external webcam for your desktop computer monitor, you have two main styles to choose from. A clip-on webcam mounts to the top of your flatscreen monitor, while a free-standing webcam is designed to be placed on a flat surface. External webcams come with installation software and usually connect to your computer via USB port. Higher-priced external webcams provide a sharper, smoother image than cheaper models and may have a glass lens instead of a plastic one. Better versions are also likely to come with advanced features such as facial recognition, tilt, pan and zoom. Both styles of external webcams can be disconnected and stored when not in use.

Webcams with Microphone

A webcam with an integrated microphone provides both convenience and cost savings. The microphones on these handy combo units are perfectly adequate for online video chats or recording basic audio-video presentations, but you may require a separate computer microphone for higher-end audio recording. When shopping, consider getting a microphone that offers noise reduction. This technology, which is available in higher-end webcams with microphones, removes or cancels background hiss so your conversation is heard clearly without distortion.

Network Cameras

Unlike a webcam, which works only when connected to your personal computer, a network camera is a camera with a small built-in computer. These devices are also known as IP (Internet Protocol) cameras as they have their own IP address. Typically used for surveillance and security purposes, network cameras have the ability to record 24/7 and transmit the content to your cloud-storage account. You can also watch the images in real time on your wireless device. Network cameras are great for monitoring your kids’ safety in the backyard or guarding against property vandalism and theft. In most cases, no special expertise is required for set-up and activation.

Webcam Buying Tips:

• Choose a webcam with a glass lens for a clearer image
• Consider an external webcam with a built-in microphone
• Pricier HD webcams have tilt, pan and zoom capability
• Look for at a frame rate of at least 30 fps to support full HD
• External webcams are available as either clip-ons or free-standing units
• Make sure your computer has a USB or other compatible port to plug in your external webcam

Webcam Features

Resolution +

Online video chat looks best in high definition (HD). An HD webcam is practically essential for business video-conferencing. Standard-definition webcams, while more affordable, produce a lower-quality image that's less enjoyable to watch and may cause viewers to miss details in a presentation. Keep in mind, the quality of your webcam helps determine the quality of their picture.

Frame Rate +

Frame rate refers to the number of still images a video camera takes in one second. Frame rate and resolution work hand in hand to determine the quality of your webcam's picture output. The best personal webcams combine full HD (1080p) with a frame rate of 30 frames per second to produce a clean, smooth picture. A slower frame rate can cause inferior image quality and even cause your image to break.

Lens +

For superior picture quality, choose a glass camera lens over the plastic lenses found on some webcams. Higher-priced webcams use the same optical glass used in high-end still cameras, though you don’t necessarily need top-notch Swiss optics if all you're doing is online video chatting with friends and family. A good quality glass lens will also perform better in low light.

Microphone +

Not every webcam has a built-in microphone, but it makes sense to buy one that does. The extra cost is often nominal when compared to the cost of purchasing a webcam and microphone separately. And don't forget that a separate computer microphone needs its own input port on your desktop computer. If you require have a separate mic, there are plenty of options available, including high-end models designed for recording professional quality audio. Noise reduction is a valuable added feature to cancel background hiss.

Connection +

Most external webcams connect to your computer via a USB port, but wireless options are available. After you’ve installed the accompanying software, most webcams are plug and play, meaning they are immediately recognized by your computer. Should you ever change or upgrade your computer's operating system, you may also have to update your webcam software to keep the device working properly. To disconnect an integrated or internal webcam, you need to go into your computer settings and disable the device driver. An external webcam is easier to disconnect as you simply unplug it from the back of your computer.

Noise Reduction +

Analog and digital transmissions produce signal noise that can degrade and distract from the audio portion of your video chat — unless it's cancelled by noise reduction technology. You’ll pay a bit more for a microphone with noise reduction, but it’s worth the cost for clean, clear sound during important business chats and conversations with loved ones.

Portability +

Most integrated webcams are set in a fixed position. If you require the flexibility to move your webcam around, you'll need to pick up an external webcam; just remember to first disable your internal webcam's device driver and then install the new webcam software, so your computer recognizes the new equipment. External webcams come in two styles. Clip-ons attach to your monitor and free-standing models are designed to be placed on a flat surface. Free-standing webcams are generally better suited for moving around and shooting different angles.

Autofocus (facial tracking) +

Autofocus can dramatically improve the video chat experience by preventing your image from blurring every time you shift your position in front of the camera. Autofocus locks onto your face and follows it for the duration of the conversation, so the picture remains smooth and sharp. Webcams lacking this feature inevitably take longer to set up prior to each chat and can lead to less enjoyable chat experiences.

Range of View +

Your webcam’s range of view, or field of view, from side to side is measured in degrees. Most webcams are fixed-lens cameras and their range of view is determined a sensor. In general, fixed-lens webcams have a range of view of 50 to 60 degrees, which is adequate for video chats. Unless you have a specific need for a wider range of view — such as capturing the whole family on screen at the same time for holiday video chats — having a wider range of view is not likely to be a significant factor in your buying decision.

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Webcam Maintenance Tips:

• Disconnect and safely store your integrated webcam device driver when not in use
• Remember to update your integrated webcam device driver if you change your computer’s operating system
• Make sure your antivirus and security software is updated and working properly
• Avoid direct sunlight on your webcam
• Clean your webcam lens with a product recommended by the manufacturer
This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.



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