Essentially, a webcam converts your PC into a personal TV station, allowing you to broadcast video and audio to communicate, collaborate or share your voice with the world online. Often used with applications such as Skype, iChat or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, webcams can also send video over instant-messaging tools such as Google Talk, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Windows Live and Yahoo! Messenger, and capture footage that can be uploaded to video-sharing sites such as YouTube or posted on a website or blog.
As broadband Internet connections become the norm and homegrown online video has become more mainstream, manufacturers have responded with webcams that feature high-definition (HD) and widescreen images, higher frame rates and advanced lenses with autofocus capabilities. High-def video is now standard in most new webcams. That noted, most laptops, netbooks and tablets have webcams built right in, which has taken a bite out of the standalone webcam market. As a result, some of the webcam manufacturers' product lines have grown a bit dusty during the past year or so.
With a dearth of new products to cover, several leading webcam review sources have gone dormant, skipping the latest round (or two) of product introductions and letting old reviews grow moldy. One exception is TopTenReviews.com, which published its 2011 webcam roundup earlier this year of 10 of the latest webcams, all of which now have high-definition (HD) video recording as standard.
Other notable sources include technology review mainstays CNET and PCMag.com, as well as BenchmarkReviews.com and the British sources TrustedReviews.com and Which? magazine. We found a particularly useful older roundup from August 2009 on Computer Power User's website. Although EverythingUSB.com has reviewed only three webcams recently, it remains a solid source, offering detailed reviews enhanced by large product photos and screen captures.
Since webcams tend to stay on the market for at least a year or two, most models have had a chance to rack up a well-documented track record. Although he hasn't reviewed anything new since mid-2010, Cowboy Frank Harrell's enthusiast website remains the most thorough and comprehensive collection of webcam reviews online, featuring highly comparative evaluations that cover basic setup and ease of use, image quality and even mundane topics such as mounting hardware. We supplemented our research of professional and enthusiast reviews by reading legions of user testimonials on Amazon.com and other sites to get a more informed perspective on user satisfaction months (and even years) down the road.