3.22.2011

Suggested Web Cams to Use With Skype

Skype Technologies S.A. logoImage via Wikipedia
Interestingly, I had multiple requests yesterday (including one from my father in-law) asking about what web camera would best work with Skype. At ETHS, we are starting to get more classrooms involved with possible exchanges and Skype is a natural and economical resource for connecting two sides of the country or the world together. In an attempt to leverage our increased deployment of over 70 document cameras this year, I had a teacher test our CP-155 document cameras with Skype, and although we successfully connected with video, she informed me that real-life usage proved to be less than ideal.  To the defense of AverMedia, when I asked a representative about possibly Skyping with the doc cam, they discouraged me from proceeding. It's just not meant to be a web cam at this point in time.  Thus, we take a look at some hardware options designed to bring your video into the world of Skype.

Wait, do I have a camera already?
The first thing I would recommend is to check to see if your existing laptop has a web camera already. Most new portables, including the budget friendly netbooks, come with web cameras nowadays, and although these won't impress viewers with quality video and superb sound, they often get the job done.  Plus, with the hardware built into the machine, setup couldn't be easier and there's no USB cables or other extra wires to worry about. Most portables will also feature a built-in microphone, so that solves both audio and video. This includes Apple Macbooks, as Skype is compatible with both PCs and Macs alike.

What's my budget?  
At ETHS, we chose to purchase one of the more expensive consumer web cameras for use in our professional development lab in preparation for upcoming video conferencing opportunities. Specifically, we chose the Logitech HD 910, and I was impressed with the ease of setup, as well as the picture quality for such a small, sleek camera. Considering the amount of money saved on travel expenses for conferences, a $79 web camera seems to be a worthy investment for institutions looking for a simple and cost-effective way to Skype.

Name brands and product reviews
HD video is probably not a high priority for parents and grandparents looking for a way to connect with their family. Also, if schools are interested in purchasing cameras in bulk, a lower priced option would be beneficial.  I have had solid experiences with Logitech, and they have a product line that extends from a less than $20 camera all the way up to the HD 910 at $79.  There are several steps in between, each offering minor feature modifications, so it's really just a matter of what you're willing to spend. The other main competitor is Microsoft, and I had a positive experience with the LifeCam VX-3000 (currently under $25), and they also offer both higher and lower priced products, including a solid HD camera in the HD-6000.  Skype also recommends an in-house model (Freetalk) in their page of suggested cameras. The Freetalk is going to be the most compatible with Skype as well as the cheapest for the feature set. That being said, the HD 910 won a three-way shootout as posted on Engadget.

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