Video chat is the new black, thanks to the tiny webcams built into almost every smartphone and tablet you can get your hands on today. But if you want to boost the video camera quality on your desktop or even your laptop, think about adding a high definition (HD) webcam to your list of computer accessories.

Though the days of small, fuzzy, stop-motion videos are thankfully behind us, and almost every computing device already includes a tiny webcam, not many of these built-in digital cameras provide the resolution needed for full-screen quality. Adding an HD webcam is easy though – just clip it on, plug it in and you’re ready to chat or even start your own YouTube blog!

Why buy an HD webcam? 

The built-in digital cameras that come with computers generally offer lower video quality than what you can get from a standalone HD webcam. These days, it’s common to find quality cameras that can record HD video in both 720p and 1080p resolutions.

The benefits of HD video are obvious. Higher quality video, with plenty of definition and clarity, makes the whole experience much more enjoyable. If you’re looking to post your videos to YouTube, for example, the higher quality will all but guarantee more views. It’s common to find 720p videos online and even 1080p. 

If you’re just looking to use the camera for video chatting though, you’ll probably find 720p more than good enough. For most people, the difference between 1080p and 720p webcam pictures go unnoticed, due to relatively small image sensors and cheaper lenses.

What you need to check before starting 

If you’re serious about recording HD videos with your webcam, make sure your computer is up to the task first. Processing high definition video requires hardware with a bit of grunt – especially if you’re talking 1080p – and older or entry-level computers may find it an uphill battle.

Also check that your internet connection is fast enough to handle HD streams, if you’re looking to make live video calls in HD. For example, popular webcam manufacturer Logitech suggests having 1Mbps upload/download rate for 720p video calling, and twice that for a smooth 1080p stream.

If you just want to record HD webcam footage for uploading to YouTube or similar sites, you don’t really need a super-fast connection, because you’ll be recording and storing the video on your computer first, then uploading it later.

Most HD webcams come with some basic software that lets you record and edit HD video, but few are really up to detailed video editing. However, there are plenty of third party solutions available. 

Video conferencing

It’s not just video sharing sites like YouTube that make good use of an HD webcam. Video chat/conferencing program Skype, for example, supports 1080p video calls. 

Of course, to have an HD streaming call you’ll need a fast connection at both ends. Fast broadband connections are becoming more common though, with higher data allowances. 

The coming of the National Broadband Network (NBN) to Australia aims to put superfast broadband in homes across Australia, meaning that HD video calling will become more common for telecommuting, telemedicine and education, as much as social networking. 

It’s important to note that in many cases, free video conferencing software only has limited high definition support. But even for services that don’t support HD at all, lenses and sensors on HD webcams are generally superior to standard models and should still offer a better quality image.

What to look for 

• It might be tempting to go for the webcam with the highest resolution, but it won’t necessarily make the biggest difference. In many cases 720p is actually preferable, for live streams in particular, given the small sensors and lenses available on webcams. 

• Be wary of high megapixel ratings for still images – as a general rule, many of those pixels are falsely added by software by a process called interpolation. 

• Like a standard camera, a webcam is only as good as its lens. In general, a bigger lens means better image quality, although there are always exceptions. 

• If you want to carry the webcam around with you for your laptop, something small and lightweight would make a lot more sense than a large, bulky unit. 

• It’s important to ensure your clip is capable of attaching to your particular screen. Some models have multi-fit clips or optional attachments.

• If you plan on using your webcam to become the world’s next internet-based Spielberg, you’ll need some decent video editing software as well as the camera, which may mean buying an additional program. 

• Some webcams come with bonus security software for face recognition or motion detection. If these are features you’d like, check if they’re included before you buy anything. 

• You’d be hard pressed to find a webcam these days that didn’t support the major video chat services like Skype and GTalk, but it’s still worth making sure when you’re shopping around. 

• Some webcams don’t work on Macs (OS X), so check for compatibility. 

• Most webcams these days also feature a dedicated microphone in the camera’s body. Remember though, not all mics are created equal. Look for stereo microphones with noise cancellation, which should help deliver high-quality audio while filming. 

Cost

They range in price from $40 to $110.