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Video Streaming with a Webcam: How to Choose the Right One for You

streaming webcamSo you want to start video streaming and think your built-in webcam will work just fine? Maybe, but maybe not. To help you figure it out, we’ve put together this short guide on what to look for in a HD webcam.

Almost every laptop comes with a webcam built in, but the quality of these webcams usually isn’t that great. Of course, there are exceptions so pull out the specs of your existing webcam and compare to our recommendations below.

You need HD

Why did we jump right in saying look for an HD webcam? Simple, that’s where video is headed. Depending on what you’re streaming, you might get by with a non-HD webcam but soon you’d find yourself outpaced by your viewer’s expectations of HD. Both mobile and broadband connections are improving at an amazing pace. This means your viewers are able, and will be able, to watch higher resolution videos. If you have a HD webcam you’ll be able to give them what they want. And you can get a great HD webcam for under £100. At that price point it makes sense to plan for the future instead of having to go buy a new webcam next year.

So what does HD mean exactly?

HD webcams are capable of capturing video in 720p or “true HD” in 1080p at 30 frames per second (FPS). It’s important to have both the number of pixels (720 or 1080) and the FPS. A webcam shooting less than 30 FPS won’t look good no matter how many pixels it has because the image will be choppy.

Sometimes webcams are also described in terms of “megapixels” or MP. This is because webcams are actually digital cameras (also digital video recorders) and can be described using the same terminology. A 720p webcam could also be called a 1 MP webcam (it’s actually .9 MP but by convention everyone rounds the number up). A 1080p would be described as 2 MP (or 1.8 MP).

However your webcam specs are written, be sure it meets these specifications as a minimum.

What else you need to know

Beyond just the HD specs, here are a few other things to consider.

Encoding your captured HD video can take up a lot of computer resources. If you’re computer isn’t able to keep up, most webcam software will drop the frame rate down to accommodate. This results in a choppy video as we described above. To help with this, some webcams come with a built in H.264 encoder which takes some of the load off of your computer. Read the descriptions carefully to find out if yours includes this as an option.

After your video is captured, it needs to be sent to the streaming service over the Internet. Your Internet connection needs to support between 3-6 Mbps upload speed for a 720p stream. A 1080p stream would be over 6 Mbps (note that viewers on smaller screens won’t be able to tell the difference between 720p and 1080p so you may not need to use 1080p).

Similarly, your viewer has to have a sufficient amount of bandwidth to view your HD stream. If they don’t, their viewing experience will suffer from prolonged buffering and frequent stops, or perhaps they can’t play the video at all. There are ways to handle this though so each viewer gets a version suitable to their situation.

Interested in streaming with a webcam, but aren’t quite sure where to start? Our streaming experts are here to answer your questions and help you get started out right. Fill out our enquiry form below or click here to contact us.

Already streaming? If you have webcam recommendations please share them with us in the comments.

Oliver Burt

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