Webcams age in a cruel way. Instead of failing all of a sudden–shaking and sputtering and conking out–they just start to look a little inadequate as the technology around them, and the newer models, evolve.
If, for instance, you’ve been using a webcam that’s more than few years old, you’ve probably begun noticing that, while it still does what it’s supposed to, what is considered standard has changed. While chatting with friends, watching other people’s live streams, or gaming, you might start to feel envious of what’s going on around you. Of course, any external webcam is going to be superior to what’s built-in on your laptop, but that doesn’t mean you won’t ever cast an envious eye at someone else’s frame rate or image definition.
If the time has come to upgrade your webcam quality, go forth and shop for what matters to you–automatic focus and light adjustment, color accuracy, sound crispness, whatever it may be–but don’t forget to consider one crucial thing as you shop: the future.
From the C920 to the C922
Let’s take a typical upgrade. Many people own Logitech’s hugely popular C920 webcam, which, although several years old, was recently recommended by both The Wirecutter and CheatSheet as one of the best pieces of tech for a home office. The logical upgrade for Logitech C920 users is to take the next step up with the Logitech C922. The devices look very similar, they “plug ‘n’ play” the same way, and come with the same tripod and screen clip, so there’s no culture shock should you decide to go this route.
The visuals, too, will be a comfort to those afraid of change. Both units top out at 1080p full HD, although the newer model will provide that level of quality at a higher frame rate, which helps with live streaming and gaming–you can see the difference yourself below:
So, why should you feel the need to upgrade? Because the C920 is a good webcam, but the C922 is a good webcam slowly morphing into a more intelligent type of camera–almost a computer.
Webcams Built for Streaming and Gaming
The biggest difference between the two Logitech models is intention. The newer model has been designed with gaming and live streaming in mind. And it has the built-in brains and muscle to deliver on its intention.
Such is the hallmark of the new generation of webcams. They’re smart, and they’re smart in ways that go beyond auto zoom or auto-adjusting for light.
Until recently, one of Logitech’s chief competitors in this new generation was the Razer Stargazer webcam (although you can still buy the Stargazer on Amazon, Razer has stopped making the webcam). The Stargazer was designed to perform some of the same tricks as the C922, at a slightly more expensive price. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can see these two side-by-side below:
Both the Logitech and Razer units, however, do more than just send your moving image across the internet. They are both capable of background removal and replacement, and they’re both designed with the live streaming and video editing app XSplit in mind. The Logitech version uses a software partnership with Personify to blur or replace your background during live-streaming, while Razer uses Intel RealSense hardware–hence the large, multi-lens design. The Stargazer can also perform facial recognition that lets it tie in with Windows Hello’s new biometric security system.
Your C920 can’t do any of those tricks.
However, there’s an even bigger technological step waiting for you, one that will better prepare you for the future of webcams.
Future-Proofing While Upgrading Your Webcam Quality
Until recently, webcams were just camera lenses with clips. All the operations and features were software dependant and run by the host computer. That’s no longer the case.
Logitech’s BRIO, for instance–Logitech again, I know, but you don’t earn a 73% market share by lagging behind the competition–packs enough on-board processing power to provide industry-first 4K visuals and high dynamic range technology (one of the few examples of webcam streaming keeping pace with smartphone stills). The 4K display is so far advanced it’s not actually widely supported yet, but it’s a fine example of how you can future-proof your webcam. Once broadband speeds catch-up, 4K may well become as ubiquitous as HD is now. Also, the BRIO finally gives Logitech a facial-recognition cam that will work with Windows Hello. So, again, you’ve got that feature tucked away once biometric security takes over before the decade is out.
For diehard future-proofers, the most forward-thinking webcam out there right now might be the GO, by Norwegian developers Huddly. The cam was originally introduced as part of the Google Hangouts Meet hardware kit, but is now on sale by itself. The GO has some smart webcam tricks, like facial recognition and automatic zoom, but it also ships with the promise of growth. Its developers have left it with enough memory to be automatically upgraded once new features arrive–and Huddly has a wishlist more than 100 features long. This is a webcam that will grow with you and your streaming demands.
The BRIO and the GO are fairly expensive by webcam standards (the GO is $500 and the BRIO $200, while the C922 is just under $100) but If you want to make a big leap and really future-proof your webcam, you want something like one of these products–a smart webcam that can think for itself, get smarter as technology evolves, and never have you casting an envious eye at someone else’s live stream.