Video bar vs webcam: what’s the difference?

Chances are you’ll be working less from the office. Whether you’ve adopted a work-from-home routine or a hybrid work setup, you’ll have noticed that video calling is all the rage right now, and it’s no surprise. Not only do we seek interaction with others as people, but we are also more likely to achieve better results by working collaboratively.

The built-in webcam in many desktops and laptops is great for keeping in touch with family and friends, but when it comes to doing business, it can leave us at a loss.

A good webcam will usually be placed above your screen. This specialized, self-contained hardware includes a camera lens and usually a microphone that will give your colleagues the best chance of hearing everything you say and seeing every move you make. Video bars improve on this with better lenses (sometimes more than one) and better microphones. A good video bar will often also have built-in speakers – a handy feature given that this type of equipment will typically be used in a small to medium sized conference room.

Whether you’re looking to purchase video conferencing equipment for yourself or are in charge of purchasing for a team, you’ll want to consider user needs when weighing the pros and cons of each device, as we we highlight it below.

Placement

A typical webcam is no bigger than the mug that’s probably sitting on your desk right now. Much lighter than a full cup, it will rest on your screen and be better positioned in line with your face. Webcams are particularly convenient in that they can be placed almost anywhere and are more suitable for personal computers than a room full of attendees.

A video bar, on the other hand, will usually need to be mounted on a wall above or below the screen you will be using. They usually have a much longer shape allowing for additional or higher quality components, like built-in speakers or a multi-camera setup.

Many workers appreciate the flexibility offered by a webcam. Its compact dimensions make it easy to store, which can be especially useful for hybrid workers who find themselves at home one day, in the office the next, and perhaps further afield from time to time. Some video bars can be placed on a desk rather than mounted on a wall, but they generally require an external power source and therefore are not considered as portable.

Cost

Compared to a video bar, a webcam will turn out to be 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, therefore focuses better on individuals. It’s great if each person has their own tile on video conferencing software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Camera quality

Despite the cheaper cost, it’s not hard to find a high-quality webcam capable of recording high-definition video, often in 4K or beyond. Just make sure your computer can keep up with this.

The best video bars can feature multi-camera setups, with telephoto lenses and wide-angle lenses with wider fields of view. Some models have cameras placed around the device to provide a 360-degree field of view, but these are only intended for use on a desk – not on a wall like a conventional video bar.

Some webcams will come with sophisticated technology like human or face detection, which can come in handy if you want to blur the background in your busy room. This is arguably less important in a webcam which is typically used by one person, whereas it may come in handy in a video bar which, combined with PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom), can focus on the speaker.

Microphone and speakers

Because you’ll usually be sitting much closer to a webcam, its microphone shouldn’t have too much trouble picking up your voice. It may also be able to pick up unwanted noise from outside the room. A common feature of video bars, fewer webcams feature smart AI technology like active sound cancellation.

Make sure any webcam or video bar you buy supports full duplex, which allows both the sender and receiver to talk and listen at the same time. In contrast, half-duplex only allows one user to send or receive audio at one time, like a walkie-talkie.

A webcam is unlikely to need built-in speakers because it will be used with a computer that already has built-in speakers or is hooked up to a more powerful set. Video bars, on the other hand, house speakers that make them an all-in-one device – some video bars run their own operating system and don’t even need to be plugged into a computer.

Lighting

What a video bar does not provide is additional lighting on the unit itself. With participants seated some distance 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 built-in lighting that faces the screen, reducing the need for separate lighting, although it’s important not to rely solely on the webcam for light when it comes to joining a call, as this can often lead to overexposure and an artificial look.

To install

It’s all part of an easy to configure package. A webcam will rarely require specialized software or training – it will usually be a case of plug-and-play. Note however the connection of any webcams you are considering. It’ll only be as fast as its slowest component, and if it relies on USB 2.0, you’re unlikely to get the speeds you’ll need for a high-quality 4K call. In some cases, if a company is using it over a faster connection like USB-C, it might indicate that other parts of the webcam aren’t quite up to date either.

We presented the best webinar software.

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