Selecting a Webcam

If you use a video communications app on your desktop or laptop computer, you may need to purchase or upgrade your webcam. Webcams are included in most modern laptops, but are almost always an add-on for desktop computers. If you are looking to use a computer system for your online lessons, or already use a webcam but need an upgrade, here a few pointers to help you select the right webcam.

Video Resolution

When shopping for a webcam, manufacturers will often advertise the camera's video resolution. Just like purchasing a TV, webcams will often tout their capabilities using similar key terms like High Definition, 720p, or 4K Resolution. These terms describe how clear or sharp your recording will look. Common video resolutions are ranked from highest to lowest quality below:

  1. 4K or 2160p Resolution (Ultra HD quality, like high end TVs)

  2. 1080p (or 1920x1080, which is your modern Full HD quality)

  3. 720p (or 1280x720, the older and common Standard HD quality)

  4. VGA, 480p, or lower (common on older laptops and Standard Definition webcams)

It is recommended that you aim for 720p quality or higher when purchasing a new webcam or laptop with a built-in webcam. Higher-end webcams will increase internet usage, but you can always scale down the quality to find the perfect balance of video quality and internet usage. Older and lower-end 480p webcams however cannot scale up in quality, and therefore will always have poor video quality in comparison to higher-end models.

Frame Rate

Frame rate is the amount of frames that the camera can capture per second. Simply put, the higher the number, the smoother the recording. Most TV programming is recorded at 30 frames per second (or fps), with some fast-paced, High Definition programming approaching 60 to 120fps. Vintage, stop-motion animations (like clay animation) videos are commonly recorded at 10-12fps, which results in the jarring start-stop characteristic of these videos.

Most modern webcams will record up to 30fps, and high-end models are capable of 60fps. Similarly, to video resolution, higher frame rates also increases internet usage, but your video communication app can usually adjust accordingly. Although now uncommon, avoid purchasing super low-end or older webcams with frame rates below 30fps. Any rating lower than 20fps will result in choppy, stop-motion animation quality.

Microphone

Almost all modern webcams include a microphone. The quality of the microphone can vary between models, but are generally better than the microphones built into laptops. Most basic webcams will include one omni-directional microphone, and this is normally sufficient for online music lessons as long as the lesson room is relatively quiet. High-end webcams may feature dual microphones with active noise-cancelling. Depending on your budget, the simpler choice is better here, especially if you plan on purchasing or using a dedicated recording microphone.

Example Models

Most modern and respectable webcams are manufactured by either Microsoft or Logitech, and are generally compatible with any Windows or Mac computer. If you plan on purchasing a webcam from a different brand, do some research, read reviews online, or contact the Tauber Music School help line to get a general idea if the webcam is a good purchase.

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