Chances are, you’re working less from the office. Whether you’ve adopted a working from home routine or a hybrid working setup, you’ll have noticed that video calls are all the rage at the moment, and that’s no surprise. Not only do we seek interaction with others as people, but we are also more likely to achieve better results working collaboratively.
A good webcam will usually sit on top of your display. This specialized, standalone piece of hardware comprises a camera lens and usually a microphone which will give your colleagues the best chance of hearing everything you say along with seeing every gesture you make. Video bars improve on this with better lenses (sometimes more than one) and better-performing microphones. A good video bar will often have built-in speakers too - a handy feature considering this sort of equipment will generally be used in a small- to medium-sized conference room.
Whether you’re looking to buy video conferencing equipment for yourself, or you are in charge of procurement for a team, you will want to consider the needs of the user when weighing up the pros and cons of each device, as we highlight below.
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A typical webcam is no bigger in footprint than the mug that’s probably sitting on your desk right now. A lot lighter than a full mug, it will rest on top of your display and is best positioned in line with your face. Webcams are especially handy in that they can be placed virtually anywhere, and are best suited to personal computers rather than a room full of participants.
A video bar, on the other hand, will usually need to be mounted on a wall above or below the display that you will be using. They are typically a lot longer in shape allowing for additional or higher-quality components, like built-in speakers or a multi-camera setup.
Many workers like the flexibility that a webcam provides. Its compact dimensions mean it’s easy to pack away, which can prove particularly useful for hybrid workers who find themselves at home one day, in the office the next, and maybe further away from time to time. Some video bars can be placed on a desk rather than mounted on a wall, but they will usually require an external power source so aren’t considered to be as portable.
Compared with a video bar, a webcam will prove significantly cheaper. In a post-pandemic world, keeping an eye on costs could be more important than ever and even buying a handful of webcams could cost less than a single video bar setup for the team. Some may like the fact that a webcam has a narrower field of view, so focuses better on individuals. This is great if each person has their own tile on video conferencing software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Despite the cheaper cost it isn’t hard to find a high-quality webcam capable of high-definition video recording, often in 4K or beyond. Just be sure that your computer can keep up with this.
The best video bars can feature multi-camera setups, boasting telephoto and wide-angle lenses with wider fields of view. Some models have cameras placed around the device to provide a 360-degree field of vision, however these are purely for use on a desk - not on a wall like a conventional video bar.
Some webcams will feature sophisticated technology like human or face detection, which can prove useful if you want to blur the background in your busy room. This is arguably less important in a webcam that’s generally used on a single-person basis, while it can prove handy as part of a video bar that, combined with PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom), can hone in on the speaker.
Microphone and speakers
Because you will typically sit a lot closer to a webcam its microphone shouldn’t have too much trouble to pick up your voice. It may also be able to pick up unwanted noise from outside the room. A common feature in video bars, fewer webcams feature smart AI technology like active sound cancelling.
Be sure that any webcam or video bar you’re buying supports full-duplex which allows both the sender and the receiver to speak and listen at the same time. In contrast, part-duplex only allows a user to send or receive audio at any given point - similar to a walkie talkie.
A webcam is unlikely to need built-in speakers as it will be used with a computer that either already has built-in speakers or is hooked up to a more powerful set. Video bars, on the other hand, house speakers that help it to be an all-in-one device - some video bars run their own operating system and don’t even need to be plugged into a computer.
What a video bar doesn’t allow for is additional lighting on the unit itself. With participants sitting some distance away from a video bar, users will want to ensure that there is adequate lighting in the room from bright overhead lights or, preferably, natural sources like a window. Many webcams are available with integrated lighting that faces away from the screen which reduces the need for separate lighting, though it’s important not to just rely on the webcam for light when the time comes to join a call as it can often lead to overexposure and an artificial look.
All of this forms part of a package that’s easy to set up. Rarely will a webcam require any specialist software or training - it will usually be a case of plug-and-play. Note the connection of any webcams you may be considering, though. It will only be as fast as its slowest component, and if it relies on USB 2.0 then you’re unlikely to get the speeds you’ll need for a high-quality 4K call. In some instances, if a company uses this over a faster connection like USB-C, it may be an indication that other parts of the webcam aren’t quite up to speed either.
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With several years’ experience freelancing in tech and automotive circles, Craig’s specific interests lie in technology that is designed to better our lives, including AI and ML, productivity aids, and smart fitness. He is also passionate about cars and the decarbonisation of personal transportation. As an avid bargain-hunter, you can be sure that any deal Craig finds is top value!