Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How to Choose the Right Webcam For You

What is a Webcam?

A webcam is a camera which is directly connected to a PC and, in many cases, the internet. A webcam is also almost always able to record video, not just still frames (though many can capture both). The objective is to record video directly onto your PC's hard drive, rather than onto a tape or onto the hard drive of an external camera.

Sometimes, people don't use Webcams to record video at all, opting instead to send live video "streaming" across the internet to a website or another computer's monitor.

Important Specifications for Webcams

There aren't a whole lot of technical details for webcams to differ from model to model. Here are a couple of the big ones you should keep in mind:

  • Resolution–The size and, ultimately, quality and clarity of the video you'll be recording. Larger numbers are better, but also use more hard drive space.

  • Frame Rate–The speed at which your video will be recorded in Frames Per Second, or FPS. This can mean the difference between a choppy set of still images (10 fps) to a smooth, cinema-like flow of sharp video (30 or 60 fps).

How do you choose the best webcam?

Your options for buying a webcam will be largely dependent upon what you want to do with it. People use webcams for all kinds of purposes, including to have video chats, to hold online business meetings or teleconferences, to monitor a situation or location from great distances, or to record and upload video diaries (aka video blogs, or "vlogs") to YouTube or their personal website.

If you plan on mainly video chatting with friends, or uploading video diaries to YouTube, the most simplistic of cameras will serve you just as well as the more expensive brands. These less expensive models will generally have a standard resolution of (640x480)–that's about as low as you should be going when it comes to resolution these days. These cameras will run well less than $100 from any retailer.

More exciting, and a little more expensive (though not as much as you'd think), you can actually buy webcams that record in High Definition resolution (960x720 or greater). These models cost closer to $100 on average, though still not much more than that.

Alternative Solutions

There are a couple of other options consumers have when it comes to more specialized webcam functions. In many cases, a standard video camera that can be found in many households today can be connected to a computer and utilized as a live webcam. This is an interesting option for people looking to have more control over their camera, and who need to utilize features such as zoom, tripod placement, or even multiple cameras simultaneously.

Of course, the more complicated the application, the more software and equipment are needed. But for most users, a simple webcam is a smart, fun way to become even more connected to the world around you.

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