Buying a webcam - the technology explained

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WEBCAM - How to Choose

With the growing availability of high bandwidth internet connections getting a webcam and staying in touch with friends and family has never been easier.

What is a Webcam
A webcam is a small video camera that takes still or moving images and sends them to your PC via a USB cable. The quality of image capture is determined by the webcam's lens, optical sensor and the frame rate the camera can transmit. The best available resolution is 640x480 and the frame rate is almost always 30 frames per second. If your looking to take movie clips then you will need a camera with a high resolution and frame rate. If you want to use your video camera for video conferencing, you could go for a cheaper, lower-spec camera but with the ever increasing availability of high bandwidth internet connections and VoIP software such as Skype, I would recommend going for a good quality camera.

PC specification and your Webcam
At this point it would be a good idea to check the minimum specification required to run the webcam of your choice, and whether your PC meets that specification. The majority of current webcams require at least Windows 98 Second Edition to work properly. Minimum processor requirements generally vary from 350MHz to 700MHz but I would suggest a processor speed of at least 1000MHz. RAM specifications vary from 128MB to 512MB. Manufacturers of webcams will generally state a wide compatibility specification, however, a good rule of thumb would be to take the top specification mentioned for your webcam and use that as your minimum specification requirement.

Ok your PC has met the minimum RAM and Processor specification for your webcam, the next thing to think about is the kind of port your webcam is going to plug into. The majority of webcams manufactured in the past five years plugs in to a USB port. However, there are two kinds of USB ports older USB1.1 ports (12Mbit/s) and the more recent USB2.0 ports (480Mbit/s). These two types look identical and you can plug a USB2.0 port into a USB1.1 socket and you can plug older USB1.1 devices into a USB2.0 port, however, only a USB Hi-Speed device on a USB2.0 port will transfer data faster than 12Mbit/s.

Upgrading your PC to meet your webcam requirements
Before you undertake any upgrade, you need to compare your PC's specifications to the minimum requirements of the webcam you want to install. Check out the need to know below before you take the plunge.

A webcam's manufacturer will specify certain minimum requirements that your PC should meet if it is to work successfully with the device. These generally include the version of Windows on your PC, your processor's speed and the amount of RAM fitted. Some webcams use a USB Hi-Speed connection. Before you buy one of these cams check to see if your PC has USB2.0 ports. If your PC runs a version of Windows older than XP then it almost certainly doesn't have USB2.0 ports. Most current webcams come with a built-in microphone, but a few don't. Before you buy, check to see if your webcam has a microphone, if it doesn't you'll have to buy one that plugs into your sound card.


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