Published 7:07 AM ET April 13, 2020
Video chat apps are clearly seeing a peak in the charts during the coronavirus pandemic.
When work, school, health and even happy hour move from real life to video teleconferencing, dedicated webcams become MIA. And everyone is getting ready for the close-up – for school, for work and for the sanity and comfort of any type of external human contact.
As Jefferson Graham noted that webcams are in high demand – and little supply. Logitech is sold out. Amazon and Best Buy are out of stock. And used webcams listed on eBay cost up to $ 420.
But don’t worry, and don’t pay a fortune to assess prices, there’s an easy, free way to use old smartphones as a webcam for better looking chats. See how:
Remove dust from old devices
Many of us have an older smartphone or tablet tucked away in an electronic waste bin somewhere. As long as it is not old, you are likely to get a better picture of an old mobile device than your laptop’s standard camera. A smaller dedicated screen is also easier to move around, so you don’t force others to look through your nose or transmit an image that looks a lot like a mug shot for everyone’s comfort.
Use a webcam application
After charging your old device, download a dedicated webcam application. They can add super useful video conferencing features, and you can often find them for free, although I prefer the paid versions for the best quality and without ads.
For Android phones, the DroidCamX Pro ($ 5 for the Pro version) is the easiest to use and looks best overall, but only works with Linux and windows operational systems. For these devices, follow the instructions in the app to turn your old Android device into a wireless webcam to chat on Skype, Zoom or Teams, or use with other programs like OBS & XSplit for your live streams on Twitch or YouTube. IP webcam ($ 4 for the Pro version) is another decent option with many options, including two-way audio and video recording. However, I found it harder to navigate in general and the best for the tech savvy types. If you have a Mac, you will need to use EpocCam Webcam Application ($ 5 for the Pro version), while not intuitive to set up or use, tends to have a more blurred image quality, and the overall experience looks very 2007.
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For iPhones, however, EpocCam Webcam (free or $ 8 or $ 20 for the Pro version) is really my favorite for my Mac. Setup is simple, downloading drivers to your Mac or PC is quick and easy, and allows connection without over the Wi-Fi network or with a USB cable. You can also connect using Newtek NDI technology without installing drivers on your computer. iVCam (free), iCam (US $ 5) and NDI HX camera application (free now) are also good choices.
Whichever application you use, it will likely drain your smartphone’s battery, so it’s best to keep it connected. You will also have to allow access to the microphone and camera and turn it off completely when you are not using it, for an additional layer of anti-eavesdropping safety precaution.
Put your phone on a tripod, even at home
This is something that I cannot emphasize enough. For video calls, handheld captures are very Blair Witch Project unstable. Place it on a tripod and make sure the camera is at eye level – even when using a hair bow in a glass in a box – it’s better than watching your screen shake all over the place. Also, use your phone’s main camera and selfie side. Most newer smartphones have 1080p rear-facing cameras that offer very high image quality and more zoom options than the 720p or even lower resolution options found on most laptops. Most webcam applications allow you to customize the video resolution, screen orientation and color effects.
Take a test
Now that you’ve set up everything, test it out with a family member, friend or colleague before heading straight for a big meeting or presentation. This allows you to correct any flaws and make sure your background looks organized and professional. I use Airpods Pro and I think it sounds clearer and sharper than the microphone built into my laptop or smartphone, especially when they’re on a table a few feet away.
Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy-winning consumer technology columnist. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferJolly.
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