How to Pick a Good Business Webcam (Part II of II)

Posted on November 23, 2009. Filed under: webcam | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Previously I introduced this series on selecting a webcam by briefly discussing Image Resolution, Motion, Features, Service Providers, and external vs. internal models. This second and final installment, built on the list of topics introduced previously in Part I, discusses webcam mounting types, microphones, unique properties of the Mac, conference room options, and sources to purchase your webcam. At the bottom is a list of recommended webcams based on our experiences at Vonei, and an online source where you can purchase them.

A friend of mine pointed out that internal webcams on laptops are convenient, but are usually lower quality and can break more frequently. Closing the laptop screen repeatedly could eventually result in a small crack in the lens or a sensor misalignment due to the shock. My friend’s daughter got a Lenovo for college and the camera was broken in 2-3 months. She uses her laptop quite a bit and opens and closes it frequently. She reported there is now a big black line right in the middle of the picture, a symptom of a cracked lens Having an external webcam is a good safety net as well as a means of getting a higher quality image and motion.

Mounting Types. Webcams are usually optimized for desktop computers or laptop computers. What’s the difference? Desktop computers are likely to need a webcam that accommodates sitting on a flat surface. Clip-on webcams are not as ideal for flat surfaces. Desktop computer CPUs are often placed on the floor. To plug in your USB webcam to the CPU, and have the webcam sitting in a position showing your face requires a long USB cable. If you have a desktop look for these two features. A laptop requires the opposite characteristics. A clip-on webcam is ideal, and the smaller the better for carrying the device while traveling. A laptop is ideal for a short USB cable. After all, who would want several feet of USB cable coiled on their desk when they only need a couple of feet length between the USB port and the top of the laptop screen?

Webcams with microphones. Webcams come with or without a microphone. After the past couple of years in testing webcams I’ve come to the conclusion that it is best to use a computer headset with microphone, and not the microphone in the webcam. Computers are inherently not good speaker phones, and sound from the computer speakers could enter the webcam microphone causing an echo effect. A headset places the “speakers” on the ears, and the microphone right in front of the mouth. A headset provides the best audio experience, making the webcam microphone a non-required feature.

Webcam fps. There are several factors which impact the frames per second produced by your webcam.  For a guide to these factors, a free fps test tool, and tips on how to  improve the fps on any webcam, see the webcam fps test site.

Mac webcams have unique characteristics. Macs are optimized for use with Apple’s services such as iChat. While they do a great job, it is inconvenient for video conferencing with people on PCs or Linux computers. The Macs will not release the webcam to other service applications unless you turn off webcam access to iChat, Photo Booth, and Skype. Also, Mac users need to select the USB webcam when they use their service. This is true even if the webcam is built-in. Why one has to select USB when the webcam is built-in is puzzling, but trust me, unless you do this the Mac webcam may not work on your video service.

Conference Rooms. Webcams are great when the users are sitting right in front of their computer. But what do you do in a large conference room with multiple people? A little known fact is that you can use a video camera, and some digital cameras, as a webcam. You will need a video capture cable to connect your computer to the video camera (source provided below). With a video camera you can mount in on a tripod on the conference room table and show everyone in the room. If the computer is plugged into a large screen monitor, or plugged into a projector and shown on the wall, everyone in the conference room can see the other parties. Plug in a USB speaker phone and you have a very low cost solution, avoiding a large investment in traditional video conferencing equipment.

Final thoughts before the recommendations. Lighting can play a major factor in the quality of the webcam image. Never sit with a window behind you, as the background light source will place your face in shadows. Having a desk lamp is very helpful in shining light on your face, improving both the image contrast and color. Another recommendation is to ensure that the webcam you purchase 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 Vista or has an interoperability issue.

Webcam recommendations and sources. After the past couple of years of experience with webcams I recommend the following units:

Brand Model Online Source Recent Price

Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 www.newegg.com $75.99

Logitech QuickCam Communication MP www.newegg.com $44.99

Vonei V8019 www.videointerviewkits.com $24.99

Video Capture Cable  www.videointerviewkits.com $24.99

I used to recommend the Microsoft LifeCam VX-3000 ($26.99 at newegg.com) until we had several users complain of interoperability with Flash video. I believe Microsoft placed a software patch on their website to fix this, so if you’re game for downloading software patches the Microsoft webcam may work well for you.  Overall Logitech makes a great lineup of quality webcams.

One service you should try with your new webcam is the free video mail service from http://mailVU.com.  You can record private video messages and send them to anyone in the world for free.  A great feature they offer is the self-destruct function where you can have your video deleted after x views or x days.  Give it a try.

Alan Fitzpatrick is the Co-founder of Vonei LLC which provides live video conferencing service across PCs, Macs, and Linux computers. VideoInterviewKits is an affiliate of Vonei LLC. Additional information about Vonei can be found on http://www.vonei.com.

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