How To Improve Your Webcam Video Quality

Posted on January 5, 2010. Filed under: webcam | Tags: , , , , |

Many business people are using computer webcams to conduct video calls, hold video conferences, and video interview job candidates. To ensure a good experience in your online session it is important to optimize the quality of the webcam video.

Video quality on your computer webcam depends largely on 3 factors:

  1. Webcam Quality
  2. Lighting
  3. Bandwidth.

Webcam Quality

I previously wrote a Guide to Selecting a Good Business Webcam which discusses many factors to consider in purchasing a quality webcam. It includes advice on specifications for image resolution, frames per second, features, etc., and also provided recommendations and sources to purchase your webcam. To summarize the Guide I recommend you look for a webcam with 1.3M pixel image resolution or better, speed rate of at least 30fps, and a good quality glass lens with auto focus.  When in doubt just go buy a Logitech.

The webcams built into laptops and netbooks unfortunately are not always the highest quality, and often are only 0.3M pixel resolution. They are also prone to breakage from opening and closing the clamshell. If you purchase an external webcam ensure that it has been tested with the service provider you plan to use, and that the webcam works on your operating system. No one wants to purchase a webcam with good specifications and then find out it doesn’t work on Windows 7, Vista, or Mac OsX 10.4.   Before an important online video session you need to make sure your webcam is working properly.  Simply click here to test your webcam. Bookmark the link and use it whenever you need to test your webcam to make sure it is working properly. Share the link with your friends so they can also test their webcams.

Lighting

It is amazing how much lighting can affect the quality of your online video experience. No wonder television studios have such strong lighting systems! If your video looks dim, grainy or washed out, try adjusting the location and brightness of your lighting. Below are some common problems caused by lighting and some suggestions to improve them:

  • Is the video dim? – There isn’t enough light in your room. Try turning on more lights, or move to an area where there is more light.
  • Is the image dim? – This could be caused by having a bright light source behind you. The camera adjusts its sensitivity to the background instead of you. Try positioning yourself so the light source is in front of you.
  • Is your video grainy? – While this could be caused by a low quality camera, it can also be caused (or made worse) by not having enough light. To compensate for the lack of light, cameras often adjust their sensitivity which creates more grain or “noise” in the image. Try turning another light on, or sitting closer to and facing the light source.
  • Is your video choppy? This can be caused by not having enough light in your room, but can also be caused by not having enough bandwidth. Try turning on more lights and if you still have the problem, read the section below on Bandwidth.
  • Does the image look washed out? This is usually caused by a light that is too intense (example: having a light shine directly at your face). Try dimming the light, or reflecting the light off a light colored surface, like a white piece of paper on your desk.

Bandwidth

Having sufficient bandwidth is key to a good video call. Bandwidth may vary during the day based on factors such as the amount of traffic on the network, the number of people using your Internet connection, and whether you are downloading or streaming something else. Below are three measurements of your connection speed that will influence your video quality:

  • Downstream Bandwidth – This is the amount of bandwidth you have coming to your computer from the Internet. You should have at least 1Mbps downstream bandwidth to ensure good quality video for multi-person conferences and screen sharing.
  • Upstream Bandwidth – This is the amount of bandwidth you have going from your computer to the Internet. You should have a minimum of 128kbps upstream bandwidth; for the best quality video and for multi-person conversations you should have 256kbps and higher.
  • Webcam fps.  There are several factors that influence the webcam frames per second.  A guide to these factors, including a free fps test and tips on how to improve your webcam fps is found on the webcam fps test site.
  • Latency – This is the amount of time it takes for the traffic you send to reach its destination. If you notice it is taking a long time for your friend to respond or that you are talking over each other, this is probably being caused by high latency. Your latency should be below 250ms. Latency problems are often caused by network congestion, if you experience problems, try ending the video conversation and starting it again.

It is a good idea to test your bandwidth prior to holding an online video session. Vonei is one of several sites that provides a free bandwidth speed test.

There is a free service to send webcam video mail to anyone in the world with an email address: http://mailVU.com.  It is a great way to utilize your webcam to personalize messages for birthdays, holidays, or for business contacts.  The free service has a self-destruct feature where you can set the video to stop after x views or x days.  Give it a try.

I hope this article on webcam video quality has been helpful. I welcome your comments, suggestions, and feedback from your own experiences.

Vonei LLC is a provider of video interviewing and video conferencing services.

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3 Responses to “How To Improve Your Webcam Video Quality”

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Having spent several years developing and managing consumer video calling services, I have to agree with much of what this article says, and here are few additional points that will impact your video calls:
– Don’t wear strips or contrasting checkered shirt if you can help it, most camera’s and systems will have trouble managing the patterns and cause the images to break up, solid colors are best.
– Lighting is tremendously important and if possible…
o Use ‘natural’ light or ‘true white’ lights versus the ‘soft’ yellowish lights, also yellow or cream colored lamp shades and walls can cause the image to be yellowish or looked washed out.
o Avoid lights that shine directly onto your camera (e.g. desk lamps) this is common in home offices
o Similar rules apply to when you take a nice photograph, you want to light up the face of your subject (you) and avoid bright lights behind the subject (again, you)
– I would also recommending have at least 512kbps bandwidth for both the upstream and downstream to support both the video you are receiving (seeing on your PC) and sending to the other end. Anything slower than 256kbps and your asking for video quality issues.
– Avoid running other larger programs on your PC during your video call, anything that causes your PC to slow down will impact your video quality. Typical culprits are anti-virus scans, downloading large files in email, large office documents that are open in the background.
– Be sure to use the ‘self view’ feature of your video program to make sure that you are centered in the image that is being sent to the other party and take a quick second to check what is behind you and will be on the video with you.
Video calling is growing and extremely beneficial; remember some 80% of communication is relayed visually versus audio….enjoy.

Thanks, that’s a good resource. I’m not ready to use it yet but the use of a webcam is on my project list

Really awesome post! Truely.


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