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Web Cameras Buying Guide
Smile! Web cameras were one of the big components that revolu...
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Web Cameras Buying Guide
Smile! Web cameras were one of the big components that revolutionized the way we communicate on the internet. First, we could send an email anywhere in the world almost instantly, next came the ability to have real-time chats with our friends through instant messaging with only one drawback; we couldn't see them! Web cameras allow us to communicate face to face, real-time, with anybody anywhere in the world. With relatives moving farther apart, kids going away to school and many old friends lingering on the pages of Facebook, now is as good of a time as ever to invest in a webcam for yourself. With a variety of styles on the market and prices ranging from dirt cheap to quite luxurious, what is the best webcam for you to get?

The first thing most people tell the salesman when webcam shopping is "I want a really good quality one". Some webcam boxes state resolutions up to a whopping 8 megapixels or more, but did you read the fine print? Most webcams are able to do still photo capture and video recording at a much higher resolution and quality rate than they can broadcast live on the internet. The reason for this is bandwidth. It takes up a lot of internet bandwidth to steam live video from one place to another - ever notice how you sometimes have to wait for online video to buffer before it will play? If a webcam were to broadcast at a high resolution through the internet it would not only slow down your bandwidth but it would likely be so stuttered at the other end that it would be impossible to watch. The resolution your webcam broadcasts at will likely be somewhere around 640x480 or slightly higher (at least until even faster internet comes alone). However, you can still get great quality pictures even at a lower resolution depending on the quality of the optical sensor on the camera. Generally, more expensive cameras will have higher quality optical sensors.

Most decent webcams on the market will incorporate some sort of mono or stereo microphone. This means you don't need to have an additional mic plugged in and this will save you desk space and cable clutter behind the desk. These mics are designed to clearly pickup anyone sitting within about five feet of them (this would be the average distance from on top of a monitor to where you sit at your desk). Some products will market "stereo mics" or "voice enhancing" mics, so decide if this is something you may be willing to pay a little extra for. Also, you can use the mic in the camera on it's own too - it will be selectable as an audio device in any software that allows mic input. For example, I can use the mic in my webcam to voice chat in my online games but I'm not actually turning on the video portion of the camera.

What other features does the camera have that you're looking at? Most mid-range and higher webcams will incorporate digital zooming capabilities. This will allow you to zoom and pan the image to get a much more focused shot of what you want to do. To build on the zoom feature some models will have face tracking as well. Face tracking is when the camera, through the software, is able to detect your face and will zoom the camera to it and pan respectively to keep your face always at the center of the image. Additional features like fancy photo borders and video effects will be a given with most brand-name web cameras on the market as well.

The difference between notebook and desktop webcams is usually minimal. Notebook webcams will have a slightly shorter focal length to better accommodate you sitting directly in front of your laptop instead of several feet away like a desktop monitor. They will also use a spring-loaded clip design to hook easily on top of the notebook's screen. Most other features will be comparable to those of a desktop style webcam.

If you're shopping for a new desktop system or laptop, you may also want to watch out for peripherals that integrate webcams into them. A large portion of new laptops will have a webcam built into the upper bezel of the screen, an integrated mic will usually complete the package. Although not quite as common for desktop computers yet, you can find a few LCD displays on the market that also integrate webcams into their upper bezels as well. You can spend as little or as much as you want on webcams and will likely be surprised just how much of a price difference you will find when you start shopping. If it's something you are going to be using a lot, or something you want good quality in, then it never hurts to spend a little extra money and get something that is a little better than average. That way you and the person you are chatting with will both be happy with the picture, quality and sound provided by the camera unit.

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