What you need to know before purchasing a webcam
There are so many webcam options out there, you need to decide what you want it to do. Once you get an idea, there are tons of great buys out there for any budget. So, here's a boiled-down list of the things you'll want to consider:
- Image quality - This includes resolution, but it also means frame rate and - especially with this surveillance idea - auto-focus as well. Look for a video resolution of at least 1280 x 720 (720p HD). A lower-resolution webcam may also be fine if you don't need crystal-clear imagery, but avoid anything less than 640 x 480.
- Night viewing - Beware. Inexpensive webcams often have low-light recording problems. This may be a surveillance deal-breaker. Slightly higher quality (OK, more expensive) webcams have better low-light sensors - something you should think about.
- Motion sensing - This is a webcam-gone-home-surveillance no-brainer. More sophisticated webcams have more settings so you can actually dial in on the "type" of motion you want to look for. Some will even allow you to increase sensitivity with respect to a critical area in the view field. Of course, the software I mentioned above can add this to a webcam that doesn't have it.
- Pan, tilt and zoom - Found on more expensive webcams, these features will allow you actually look around a room from a distance rather than just see what's in front of the camera. This isn't needed for smaller rooms, but if you're keeping an eye on a large family room, it might be worth it.
Of course, a full-featured webcam is approaching the price and features of an internet-enabled security camera. So, if you're looking at the high-end webcams, take a look at security camera options as well.