Which HD Webcam is the Best?

In a recent live questions & answers session, I suggested that I was still on the lookout for the world’s best HD webcam – specifically, one that would work with Windows (and preferably, baked into a laptop computer). Apple’s served me well enough with the FaceTime HD webcam, but Justin Haghighi helped dig up a few viable PC options for my Windows needs – and his research is too good not to share with the rest of the community:

Let me start out by saying that I’m a big fan and have been watching your videos for a long time now. I’ve commented on videos before but I’ve never done anything of real value for you or the community so I thought I’d email you for the first time. Anyway, in a recent video you recorded live on YouTube, you mentioned you’ve been looking for a good notebook with a nice HD webcam. I decided to look for some that you may or may not have looked at to provide you with some suggestions. I looked at many, and I felt that these could potentially fit your needs. You’ll note that they are from major players in the PC market, but I did not select them because they are major brands. They are pretty much in the same class and prices run from more or less about $899.99 to $1299.00, but it depends on how you customize which one you select.

Which HD Webcam is the Best?The first PC I looked at was a Dell XPS notebook. It comes in fifteen and seventeen inch versions, but both sizes come with a two megapixel HD webcam. I did find a couple of videos on YouTube with a quality test of the HD webcam on the fifteen inch version, but I pretty sure they’re the same on both versions. The video quality looked decent and very comparable to the FaceTime HD webcam, but I think you’ll have to see for yourself. Note — I won’t be linking the video quality videos because I don’t want you to feel like you have to watch them; I want you to decide if you want to research these products further. Dell claims the webcam is Skype-certified, but I don’t know if that makes a difference. One person in a quality test said that they thought the camera performed well in low-light, and I sort of agreed. It was watchable, but certainly not as nice as from even a modern point-and-shoot with video capabilities — frankly, no laptop HD camera I’ve seen is. The specs of this PC are highly customizable and there are many base versions to choose from. I believe that the choices you have with this notebook in terms of specs are pretty good.

The second notebook group I researched were the HP Pavilion DV6s and DV7s. Like the Dell, the specs are highly customizable (there’s no point in listing them since there are so many variations) but all include an HP TrueVision HD Webcam. I didn’t find very many videos showing this notebook’s camera, but HP makes a few cheap standalone webcams which, I assume, have very similar quality to the notebook cameras. The few videos that I found had pretty good video quality, but a lot of the people had not changed their webcam’s settings to record in HD, resulting in some standard definition video. It took some digging to find a widescreen 720p video. The camera, by HP’s specs, is supposed to perform better in low-light than other notebook cameras thanks to the TrueVision technology. Once again, there wasn’t much footage that I could find online to test this theory. Personally, I thought that footage from this webcam looked better than the Dell’s, but they were too similar to tell which was truly better. These were videos uploaded by regular consumers for their vlogs and various non-tech related shows, making it hard to compare the footage from each webcam. Again, I’m sorry I won’t be linking the test footage I found. I’m sure you’ll look for yourself if you’re interested.

The final notebook that I felt good enough to mention is a Sony VAIO F series notebook. I wasn’t able to find any footage of the webcam, but Sony’s Web site states that the camera does record in HD. There are many notebooks in Sony’s line that record in HD, but I chose this one not only because it’s one of Sony’s more powerful notebooks but also because of the large, high-resolution display. I understand that you like larger, high-res displays so the other two notebooks have a 1920×1080 resolution option for each screen size (fifteen to seventeen) while the VAIO F series comes standard with one for its sixteen point four inch (2D version) LCD. I also chose this machine because I’m a big fan of Sony hardware and I’m sure it will have video quality similar to the FaceTime camera, the Dell camera, and the HP TrueVision webcam. I didn’t select it just because I’m a fan of Sony hardware, though. It has several desirable features such as Fresh Start (which is when Sony factory uninstalls all bloatware and unneeded Sony media programs), great standard specs (including an i7 quad-core), and an excellent display.

I’d like to thank you for reading my suggestions. I hope you’ll find it helpful in your search. Keep in mind, however, that this is pretty much just a research project. Unfortunately, I don’t own any of these notebooks (I do own a last-generation VAIO S series, but it doesn’t have an HD webcam), but I did try to find some good notebooks with decent HD cameras. Should you purchase one of these machines based on this email and the camera quality turns out to be subpar, I apologize. Keep in mind you could always return any of these machines if you do end up purchasing one, though. If you do want me to link you any of the articles or footage that I used in forming my opinion about these notebooks, please contact me. I’m sorry I won’t link them here, but this is already long enough and I don’t want you to feel obligated to watch the videos and read the articles that I link.

HD DVR Boxes and HD Receivers Use Energy when Turned Off

HD DVR Boxes and HD Receivers Use Energy when Turned OffI always believed that when you shut down an appliance, whether a computer or other electrical device, that it ceased to use power. However, this is not the case as I found out when reviewing my energy output from my two DirecTV receivers (one of which is an HD DVR box and the other is an HD receiver). So when I read the information from the NRDC (National Resource Defense Council), on how much energy these types of set-top boxes use, I was surprised. I was surprised mainly by the fact that these set-top boxes use more energy than a new 21 cubic foot refrigerator / freezer combo that we know runs continuously. This info set me to considering how a turned off unit can use more energy than one that is running continuously.

Among the interesting facts released by the NRDC is that set-top manufacturers like Cisco, Samsung, and Motorola are ambivalent to the fact that the devices they are producing use so much energy. The NRDC estimates that there are approximately 160 million TV set-top boxes in the U.S. requiring a minimum of nine coal fired power plants just to power these boxes. That means that US consumers are shelling out approximately $3 billion a year just to keep our set-top boxes running.

One disturbing issue considering the cost of energy is that cable and satellite companies require these set-top boxes to be on 24 x 7 for their convenience in updating software as needed. This means that even when we think the boxes are off, they are not off, but on standby — thus requiring that power be available to them. What is also surprising is that this stand-by mode requires the same amount of power, whether or not we are using the receiver.

While this should come as no surprise, some states, like California, have begun to address these issues in regards to other devices, like televisions in an effort to save energy. But to date, these same efforts have not targeted set-top boxes. Obviously I, for one, would like to see cable or satellite companies forced into a position where they are required to take responsibility for the energy that these set-top boxes use and find a way to reduce the power that they require. If they would do this, not only would it help consumers reduce their energy cost, but it would also help us, as a nation, to reduce the carbon footprint we are leaving on the planet for future generations.

Read the complete NRDC report (in .PDF format).

Is Getting a New Computer Always a Good Thing?

Have you changed computers lately? I have had the misfortune to have scored on both a new laptop and two new computers in exchange for some work. Why is that a misfortune? Getting a replacement laptop for the one I gave to my wife when her desktop crashed should be a positive. And getting a newer, faster desktop is always a joy — isn’t it?

Well, in the bad old days it used to take me about two days of frustration to setup a new computer the way I wanted it, but with the new operating systems and easy move applications, it only takes me about two days of frustration to setup a new computer. Of course the latest generation does much more than the older ones, so in some sense setting up a new computer has become more convenient. That is, for the same amount of frustration, I get more done. Surely getting my LAN to do the things I want is much easier now, but at this writing, one of my network printers is still not recognized by everyone. If no one recognized it, that would be understandable, but when I try to bring up two new computers with the same operating systems and do the same things to them, they should behave similarly. Or am I being dense?

But here is an underlying source of frustration: how much computing power do I need? The reason that netbooks took off and sold so well is that many people realized they were mostly writing letters, checking email, surfing, and maybe checking the latest on Facebook. You do not need very many processors for that type of load. Even if you keep your books and have fairly large spreadsheets, an entry level desktop will likely handle anything you throw at it.

Watching HD DVDs is no problem, but perhaps playing the latest action games would bring any of my computers to their knees. I have one home-built PC with dual-core and 8 gig of RAM which I like to use for video editing. Speech recognition is another application that can slow down a weaker machine.

Put this recent frustration in the context of tutoring seniors who spend most of their time at their PCs being frustrated. Part of my job is to empower them so they can do what they want and not be frustrated. But sometimes I fear that my main accomplishment is to help them to become frustrated at a higher level.

Now I have to try to sell one of the extra computers. It is nice, and not frustrating — would you like it?

Apple TV A Strong Amazon Selling Item

Honestly, it must be the UI and the HD quality available. This is the ONLY reason I can see someone going with an Apple TV over other similar priced settop boxes. Less content, no upcoming Hulu Plus, nothing.

Despite this, today I learned that Apple TV is selling like hotcakes on Amazon.com. Right now, the Apple TV is doing very well in the Amazon sales arena. And why not, a lot of cool improvements were made to this little box from performance to pricing.

The biggest issue I’ve seen with Apple TV is its closed off nature. Any content available is made available via Apple or not at all. Yes, there is the addition of Netflix… but there are no real community based channels available like with the Roku box. Let me say this. Once Hulu Plus begins its roll out on the various consoles and settop boxes, Apple TV could see a decline in its perceived value if it doesn’t catch up.

Digital Video or MiniDV?

I shoot a lot of video — all to tape. I’ve been hesitant to switch to a purely digital workflow, as MiniDV tape instantly provides archives. Call me a throwback, but I shoot primarily in standard definition (SD). While it’s long past time to make the jump to high definition (HD) and go straight to digital, it’ll take a significant investment in new cameras and storage, along with a beefy new workstation.

Alas, the project I’ve undertaken has been funded out of pocket. I can’t simply go to the boss and ask for a bigger budget since I am the boss on this one.

Since we’re dealing with a mix of HD and SD video, the final piece will be rendered in SD. There are stacks of MiniDV tapes sitting on my desk, waiting to be digitized. To make things more complicated, Final Cut doesn’t want to recognize my sole HD camera, so we’re starting to digitize the HD footage with iMovie.

I’ve been archiving to external hard drives. The next step is to drop some coin on a big RAID.

Netflix Sees Upgrade On Sony PS3

There should be an image here!The great race to prove that Web based TV is ready for prime time is definitely getting underway. And from the looks of things, Netflix is trying its best to get its offerings onto as many TVs as possible.

Now comes the problem. While it’s managed to get more 1080p options made available with its content, Netflix still needs to find a way to get more content to the end user.

So great news: Sony’s PS3 has 1080p Netflix. Let’s all hold hands and sing with joy. Come on, really? Look, as a supplement, Netflix on the PS3 is great. But just because the limited content is in HD doesn’t really mean this is a reason to celebrate.

New Apple TV Examined

There should be an image here!Apple TV has been a long time coming. From the beginning, even the most die-hard Apple users had a difficult time getting their minds around the content it provided. Too big, costing too much for the content in contrast to cheaper alternatives, it was labeled at one point as a device for hobbyists.

As we flash forward into today, we see the new Apple TV looks to be a heck of a lot better than previous models. The size, smaller. Content selection, well, basically the same. But the menus are attractive, which can be a great boon to usability for those not used to using other alternatives instead. Really it comes down to two things that would make you choose Apple TV vs an alternative such as Roku.

Amazon HD on the Roku wasn’t quite as good as Apple TV’s HD content. Then again, Roku is available for those people out there who don’t have access to HD TVs with their HDMI connections. So really, it comes down to what is important to you. If maximum HD is important, then perhaps Apple TV is worth a look. After all, it supports Netflix on-demand as well.

A 3D Camcorder For Consumers

There should be an image here!Being in the market for a new camcorder myself, I have to admit that trying to understand why anyone in their right mind would spend money on a 3D camcorder is difficult to get my head around.

Here are the facts: the new Panasonic HDC-SDT750 HD sounds like a dream come true from the perspective of a quality device with the kinds of functions one would want from such a device. And of course, going with HD as an option is a given these days. But 3D, seriously?

Worse is what sounds like a possible performance hit when using the 3D lens. Some hit on how well things float along is fine, but it again leads me to wondering why anyone would want to go 3D with a pro-sumer camcorder? Am I just too old fashioned in my thinking?

[Photo above by anamobe / CC BY-ND 2.0]

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Western Digital WD Elements 1 TB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive

There should be an image here!Designed with the same commitment to quality that made WD external drives the number one drives in the world, Western Digital’s WD Elements USB 2.0 external hard drives are the right answer for simply affordable add-on storage. Just plug it in to a USB port and start saving your photos, music, video, and files. Kit contains; USB 2.0 external hard drive, USB cable, AC adapter, Quick Install Guide.

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Want Local Stations In HD From DISH Network? You Need Two Satellite Dishes

About six weeks ago I got a notice from DISH Network, my current satellite company, informing me that my local channels were available in HD. On my Dish receiver, I have connected a external antenna and have been receiving over the air channels which come in perfectly. I am fortunate to live within 10 miles of our local stations and my signal strength for all HD channels is 90% +. Most stations come in at a signal strength of 100%, and are crystal clear.

But if Dish was going to offer the locals in HD, and was going to do this for free, I figured why not? So I setup an appointment to have what I thought was my satellite dish to be replaced. When the tech. arrived he informed me that I would need a second dish satellite on my roof to get the locals in HD. No thank you Mr. Tech-man, I’ll stick with my antenna. Even the tech-agreed that was the way to go.

I thought I would pass this on in case you were considering adding local HD channels to your system, and you are a DISH Network client.

Comments welcome.

Wii Doesn’t Need HD Because Consumers Don’t Want It?

Last week I wrote about the Wii and its deal with Netflix to stream movies. The thinking was that the Wii would also be offering HD to compliment the Netflix experience, but that doesn’t seem to be high on Nintendo’s list of what the Wii consumer wants.

In what I find are unbelievable statements, the CEO of Nintendo of America states that:

Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aime has been talking about the streaming service that is coming to the Wii.

Reggie went on CNBC and said that Wii owners won’t miss the HD content available on the other game consoles via Netflix that the Wii won’t be capable of streaming. He said, ” …there is really no loss for the Wii consumer.”

He continued saying, “But, even more importantly than that, the consumer has voted. Over 26 million consumers have bought a Wii. The consumer is saying, for them, the quality of the visual is not nearly as important as the overall entertainment, the overall value of that experience and that is really, what has propelled us. In terms of what the future holds, we’ve gone on record to say the next step for Nintendo in terms of home consoles will not be simply to make it HD, but to add more and more capability and we’ll do that when we totally tapped out all of the experiences for the existing Wii and we are nowhere near doing that yet.”

Interesting statements. It seems that if consumers continue to buy the current Wii, Nintendo may have no intentions of upgrading its product. I believe an HD upgrade is overdue and would be a valuable asset to the Wii.

What about you? Does the Wii need a facelift?

Comments welcome.


Blu-ray On PCs – Why?

Reading this article today, I found myself wondering how people would think that it is price alone that is keeping people from swarming over to the media player in the first place. Sure, it is a barrier that one has to be willing to overcome. But I see some bigger reasons why PC adoption of Blu-ray is so weak.

First of all, the only good Blu-ray player I have ever seen was the Sony PS3. This is not to say that they all suck, but with so many models both in and out of PCs being a “meh” kind of proposition, it does leave a lot to be desired when asking folks to spend any real money on them.

The real sales will likely continue to trickle in on the home front for those few families that feel that it’s worth going Blu-ray for their TV sets to replace their DVD players. There is speculation and claims that even DVDs look better using the new technology, so I can certainly see the value here.

Back on the PC front however, I am not convinced that the need for Blu-ray is going to change anytime soon. With online backup solutions becoming so commonplace, in addition to external hard drives being plenty for most people’s needs, Blu-ray’s only appeal is truly… video. And even then, it has to compete with other options out there already.



Online video has gone through a big transformation over the years. When we first started streaming video, it’s surprising that we even tolerated it because the quality both visually and audibly was horrible. It seemed like you needed to set aside a couple of hours just to get a good look at a video that was a few minutes long. YouTube helped to change the game, and a variety of other video services have also tackled the challenge of making online video ubiquitous. Now we’re spoiled. Video streaming is smooth and instantaneous, and we can even stream HD videos if we want to. A site called highdefnow focuses exclusively on HD video.

There may be a handful of online video services that support HD video, but highdefnow is different. The site is simple and doesn’t look very glamorous, but when it comes down to it, it’s all about the videos, and highdefnow delivers in this area. The videos look great, and they’re even more impressive when you view them in fullscreen. Just like on YouTube, users can upload videos, get the code to embed them (in HD!), comment on them, rate them, etc. On highdefnow, it’s all HD all the time.


Zune HD This Fall

Speaking for myself, an mp3 player is an mp3 player. I mean, most people are all excited about Apple’s iPod products, while I do not even bother using my own iPhone as an mp3 player. Currently, I still use one of the old school iPod nanos for my mp3 needs and when it goes bad, will almost certainly go with a Cowon flash player as it means I can go with more codec options. Hey, I have a lot of FLAC music files! Do not believe the iPod is going to be a lot of help there.

But for those of you who want more, yet are not really wanting to fall into the iPod niche, you might consider looking at the latest Zune called the Zune HD. Offering much of what the iPod touch offers, along with some additional features, one might find that it is a better match for them in the end.

To those who believe this Zune HD to be a FUD tactic, I would strongly disagree. The iPod market is not one that Microsoft is going to ignore. And for better or worse, you had bet your backside that MS will be shipping this Zune HD asap. They are already very late to this market. So waiting any longer would be counter productive for them.