♫~Tu-tu-ru!~♫ Data analyst by day ★ Actor by night ★ Singer by sometimes ★ Writer by whenever
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First Time Since Early 2020

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Gotten the Ferris wheel operator's attention
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Covarr
44 days ago
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"Coughed without covering my mouth". Thank goodness we're back to normal so I can start ignoring basic hygiene again.
East Helena, MT
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2 public comments
jlvanderzwan
44 days ago
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"Installed Software Updates" should be way lower down the list
alt_text_bot
45 days ago
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Gotten the Ferris wheel operator's attention

Why It’s Time to Ditch Your Laptop’s Camera and Buy a Real Webcam

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Back view of employee talking on video call with other businesspeople.
fizkes/Shutterstock.com

With the pandemic keeping nearly everyone at home this past year, many of us have relied on video calls to stay in touch with family, friends, and coworkers. And while the camera on your laptop gets the job done, you’re probably doing yourself (and everyone else) a disservice by not using a better webcam.

Many laptops already have cameras built into them, and they do technically work for video calls and the like, which is why many people haven’t bothered paying for a dedicated camera. However, if you’ve been on a video call, you’ve inevitably talked with a few folks with a low-resolution camera and lamented the experience afterward. So, it’s time you ask yourself: Is your laptop webcam really good enough?

Why Aren’t Laptop Cameras Better?

The main limitation that laptop cameras have to deal with is a lack of space. Their screens are super thin (and getting thinner and less bezeled every year), which doesn’t leave much room for the bulkier and more powerful hardware found in quality webcams or any other camera for that matter. Even smartphones are thicker than laptop screens.

As such, the average laptop’s camera rings in at an underwhelming 720p. Manufacturers eagerly pack 4K screens and powerful hardware into these machines, but always seem to overlook cameras (even the brand new M1 iMacs, which aren’t even laptops, only boast a wimpy 1080p webcam).

Young teacher or tutor looking at webcam talking in classroom giving an online lesson via a video call
insta_photos/Shutterstock.com

To actually be good, these cameras need to have enough room for the two things central to capture a quality image: a decent-sized sensor and lens. Over the years, manufacturers have tried a variety of tactics to remedy this situation, like bolstering their underwhelming cameras with gimmicky software (that ultimately didn’t help) or even relocating webcams in keycaps or elsewhere on the body of the laptop, which resulted in the dreaded up-the-nose view.

While this wasn’t a big deal in, say, 2019 (or any time before that), things changed in 2020. With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic and much of the workforce shifting to a work-from-home setup, webcams suddenly became an everyday necessity. Seemingly out of nowhere, everyone was clamoring to buy any webcam they could get their hands on in order to stay in touch with family, friends, and coworkers.

Everyone was pretty understanding of the situation at first, with webcams quickly going out of stock everywhere due to the unforeseen spike in demand. But as stay-at-home mandates and remote work situations were extended—and as webcam stock slowly returned to retail stores—it became pretty clear that good webcams were every bit as important as a good internet connection. Nobody wants to spend an hour on a video call with someone whose inadequate low-resolution laptop camera is struggling to provide a decent picture.

Now, hopefully, it’s clear to laptop manufacturers that priorities have changed and that quality webcams need to carry more weight and consideration in future laptop designs. New laptops, even base models, would benefit from having a webcam with at least a 12MP and 1080p resolution sensor.

When Is Your Laptop’s Camera Enough?

Close up shot of a built-in camera on a laptop
Wolfgang Zwanzger

As we hinted at earlier in this article, laptop cameras are technically functional and work in a pinch (hey, they’re better than nothing). However, that’s far from a glowing commendation, and frankly, in 2021, the average laptop’s camera no longer makes the cut. There’s no good reason, especially after this past year, not to have a quality webcam if you’re regularly making video calls or streaming.

Having a better camera option for your computer makes you look better to anyone you’re on a call with or who’s watching your livestream. A better camera or webcam will ensure you look bright and crisp, not pixelated and dark. Most quality webcams even offer a wider field of view, which is perfect if you need to squeeze your entire family into the shot for a video call. Good webcams also offer better microphones, though if you really want to up your audio game, you should use a dedicated USB microphone.

If you video chat regularly, especially in a professional capacity, then a good webcam is paramount. If you only use video calls sporadically, then your laptop camera might be good enough, but an affordable webcam might still be worth picking up if you’re looking for a better overall experience.

What Are the Alternatives?

Given the many shortcomings built-in laptop cameras have, you’re probably wondering what alternatives are available to you. The obvious pick is a dedicated webcam you can plug into your laptop. Webcams are designed for just that purpose and are not only going to be the easiest alternative to set up and use, they’ll also make you look good with their higher-quality components and resolutions.

Of course, you can get creative and use other devices as well, like the camera in your smartphone or tablet. Where most laptop cameras are limited to 5MP and a less-than-crisp 720p resolution, newer smartphones and tablets are much better. Typically, you can expect front-facing cameras on these devices to range anywhere from 12-24MP that can handle, on average, 1080p video. And many higher-end devices can even do better than that.

Person using a DSLR camera to live stream an online yoga class lesson
ShutterOK/Shutterstock.com

There’s also the option to use your actual camera, like a DSLR. As long as it can plug into your laptop and your computer can access it, a camera is a stellar alternative. Over the past year, most of the major camera manufacturers have released drivers and software to make many of their cameras more compatible for just this purpose, so yours could work just fine—just do a little research on whether this is an option for your camera’s particular make and model. And if you’re feeling really creative, there are other options even beyond these.

How Much Do Webcams Cost?

Generally speaking, standalone webcams can cost anywhere from about $25 up to $200, but we found that the sweet spot is around $70-$120. It really just comes down to your budget and what specific features you’re looking for.

Just need something basic that offers high-definition recording and skips the frills? There are decent picks on the lower end of that range. Want a 4K image, stereo microphones, a wide field of view, and high-quality components? You’ll likely end up spending closer to $170.

Ready to Get a New Webcam?

Here are the facts: Laptop cameras do the bare minimum for video calls and streaming video. And while that might have been acceptable at some point in the past, it just doesn’t cut it anymore in a time when video calls are how we’re all staying connected at work and with friends and family on the regular.

A dedicated webcam is absolutely worth upgrading to, as they are made of better materials, have higher resolution sensors, work better in low-light scenarios, and even have better microphones than built-in laptop cameras. You’ll look and sound better in calls, recordings, and streams. What’s not to like about that?

Want to take the leap and upgrade your video call game? Check out our best webcam picks:

The Best Webcams for Video Conferencing, Streaming, and More

The Best Budget Webcam
Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000
   Check Price   
The Best Standard Webcam
Logitech C920S Pro HD Webcam
   Check Price   
The Best Webcam Upgrade
Logitech Brio Ultra HD Pro
   Check Price   
The Best Webcam for Game Streaming
Razer Kiyo
   Check Price   
The Best Add-on Webcam for Laptops
Logitech StreamCam
   Check Price   
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Covarr
68 days ago
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Only thing is, do some research before buying. Some cheap $20 webcam probably won't be a meaningful improvement over your laptop's camera, and at that point you're just throwing money away.
East Helena, MT
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YouTube TV Login is Broken for Many on Chromecast with Google TV

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Having trouble with your Chromecast? Several people in the r/youtubetv Reddit community are complaining that they can’t get past the YouTube TV sign in page on their Chromecast with Google TV. Google is aware of the issue, according to users who called the company for help.

Read This Article on Review Geek ›

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Covarr
80 days ago
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Good on Google, breaking it on their own platform right after the announcement Roku will lose it as well.
East Helena, MT
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After the Pandemic

4 Comments and 12 Shares
I'm looking forward to having to worry a lot less about covid, but wouldn't mind if we worried a little more about giving each other colds. Colds are bad!
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Covarr
85 days ago
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I've got some really cool homemade cotton masks. I fully intend to continue wearing them in the colder seasons, both to keep my face warm and as a fashion accessory.
East Helena, MT
simonallaway
85 days ago
Yes! the warming of the face was a nice side effect.
joeythesaint
85 days ago
Right? On the cold or really windy days they're awesome.
npatrick
84 days ago
My fogged up glasses are not fans of the mask.
kazriko
84 days ago
A mask with a metal piece near the nose that you can shape and seal against your nose helps with the fogging.
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3 public comments
lamontcg
85 days ago
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Airports and planes. I've gotten sick so many times on vacation. Wearing an N95 on a plane is basically common sense.
hobbified
85 days ago
Oh sure, let's take the claustrophobia of being trapped in a metal box for hours with no possibility of escape, and tack on the claustrophobia of hours of breathing your own stale air.
mvoelske
85 days ago
Rather breathe my own stale air than someone else's!
lamontcg
85 days ago
I'm a cave diver, I don't have claustophobia. And in the past 15 years I've come down with 3 or 4 colds, norovirus and influenza while travelling. The influenza I'm sure was from the kid right behind me that was sick the whole 5 hour flight home and nearly put me into the ER. If any snowflake sitting next to me is triggered by me wearing a mask they can ask the flight attendant to seat them next to some other sniffling freedum loving murican. (I was being an idiot and not getting flu shots though which is a mistake I won't repeat -- definitely doesn't help with the colds though)
jlvanderzwan
85 days ago
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*cries in Sweden*
alt_text_bot
85 days ago
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I'm looking forward to having to worry a lot less about covid, but wouldn't mind if we worried a little more about giving each other colds. Colds are bad!

Comic for February 25, 2021

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Covarr
149 days ago
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Hey, at least they made the list!
East Helena, MT
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Alarming macOS Malware Found on Over 30k Machines (Including M1 Macs)

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A partially-opened MacBook on an ominous black background.
canadianphotographer56/Shutterstock

Security researchers at Red Canary have discovered a mysterious new malware on nearly 30,000 Macs, though the actual number of infected computers is probably much higher. It appears that the malware, nicknamed Silver Sparrow, is waiting for the right moment to deliver a malicious payload to its host devices. It’s one of the first viruses to run natively on both Intel and M1 Macs.

Silver Sparrow hasn’t harmed any computers yet, but it checks a control server for new commands every hour. Without access to this control server, we have no way of knowing the goal behind Silver Sparrow. That said, the fact that someone is waiting to “activate” the malware is alarming.

A diagram showing each version of the macOS malware and how it works.
Red Canary

Another alarming factor is Silver Sparrow’s unique, ingenious design. It’s distributed in two unique packages, titled updater.pkg and update.pkg. While macOS malware usually relies on preinstall or postinstall scripts to execute commands, these packages execute commands through the less-transparent JavaScript API. Of all the malware that Red Canary has encountered, it says that Silver Sparrow is the only one to leverage the JavaScript API.

Upon installation, Silver Sparrow looks up the URL that it was downloaded from, probably to help its designers track which infection methods are the most effective. Interestingly, Silver Sparrow relies on AWS S3 and Akamai CDN cloud services for file distribution, which suggests that its designers are experienced with web servers and cloud computing. Cloud distribution is more resilient than single-server distribution methods, and using popular cloud infrastructure like AWS allows the malware designers to “blend in” with regular web traffic.

Red Canary teamed up with MalwareBytes and found the Silver Sparrow virus on nearly 30,000 computers. Of course, this is just the number of infected computers that MalwareBytes has access to, the actual number of infected computers is probably much higher. Scroll to the bottom of Red Canary’s report if you want to hunt for Silver Sparrow on your Mac, or use the MalwareBytes antivirus software to scan your computer for the virus.

Source: Red Canary via Ars Technica

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Covarr
152 days ago
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Remember, kids: "They don't make viruses for this platform" isn't a sustainable form of security.
East Helena, MT
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