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What is a Webcam?

By J. Beam
Updated May 16, 2024
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A webcam, or web camera, is the loosely used term for any camera that generates images that can be accessed by and displayed on the world wide web through a server. A webcam is essentially just a camera that is connected to a computer, either directly or wirelessly, and gathers a series of images for remote display elsewhere. Webcam technology is widely used by all sorts of people for all sorts of different reasons.

In 1991, the first webcam was up and running at Cambridge University's Computer Science Department, but since then, webcams have crept into homes, businesses, public streets and buildings. Webcams are often used for personal use in the home by parents who want to give distant relatives visual access to their children or want to monitor what goes on in the home while they are at work. People might also use webcams in the home to keep an eye on things while they are out of town or even just to see what their pets do all day. The uses of a webcam are limitless. Businesses often use webcams for video conferencing, and webcam technology is used by numerous other entities to give the public access to a variety of information, from weather and traffic to the feeding habits of the most recently acquired zoo animal. Some schools and day care facilities use a webcam to allow parents to see what their children do at school.

The webcam basically works by capturing a series of digital images that are transferred by the computer to a server and then displayed to the hosting page. There are even sites that allow users to upload and store their webcam images for free, which many individuals choose for personal use. Webcams vary in their capabilities and features, and the variances are reflected in price. Some webcams capture a still image only once every 30 seconds, while others provide streaming video by capturing 30 images per second. A webcam can be purchased at any computer store and most major electronics retailers, as well as online. A knowledgeable sales associate should be able to help any consumer choose the right webcam.

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Discussion Comments
By profess — On Dec 11, 2012

I love it when shops, restaurants and other businesses will set up a webcam somewhere that you can tune into at any time of the day. It is especially interesting when the webcams are placed someplace exotic.

What an amazing opportunity to have, to be able to peek into thousands of places around the world instantly. The tyranny of distance is over.

By BAU79 — On Dec 11, 2012
Is it possible to get a webcam that take really high quality videos, like HD quality? I would like to start a series of vlogs but my webcam takes terrible video and I know that no one would want to watch my show.

I have seen people that seem to be talking into laptop webcams and they get really great picture. Are they actually talking into cams on a tripod, or can you actually get good video with a webcam?

By truman12 — On Dec 10, 2012
My girlfriend lives about an hour away from me and I do not know how I would make the long distance thing work if we did not both use Skype. Talking on the phone is great, but seeing a person makes for so much stronger a connection. I can see what she is wearing, watch her body move as she runs through her mannerisms, comment on her hair. The webcam really picks up a lot. It is not ideal, but we are making the situation work as best we can.
By indemnifyme — On Nov 30, 2012
@SZapper - I've heard of people using an airport webcam to spy on their children (or spy on their nannies), so it was probably only a matter of time before people used this method to keep track of their pets. For most people, pets are a big part of the family so it's natural to want to keep an eye on them.
By SZapper — On Nov 29, 2012
I've used webcam streaming software to video chat with friends and family members before, but I've never thought about using it to spy on my pets. That seems like a really bad idea if you have multiple pets and things get messed up at home when you're gone. If you use your webcam, you can figure out which pet is responsible for the damage.

This could also be a good idea if one of your pets is sick and you have to go to work. You could use a webcam to check up on your pet and make sure they're OK.

By Azuza — On Nov 29, 2012

@SunnySkys - Another way you can quickly figure out if your laptop has a webcam is to download some video chatting software like Skype, or just try out the video chat that comes with many email services. If you have a webcam on your computer, the program should recognize it and offer it as an option on the menu for you to use.

By sunnySkys — On Nov 28, 2012
anon27870 - You definitely shouldn't feel like a fool if someone asks you if you have a webcam, and you can also probably answer that question with a yes if you have a lap top. Most laptops come with a built in webcam and webcam software these days, and they're really easy to use.

If you want to figure out if your lap top computer has a webcam built in, just look at the top part of your computer, right above the screen. You should see something that looks like a camera. Then check in your accessories or programs folder, and you should see a program to take pictures or videos with your webcam.

By anon156533 — On Feb 27, 2011

thank you very much. I understand now what a webcam is.

By anon129281 — On Nov 22, 2010

Can I use webcam to record and store videos on a hard disk or only transmit through internet?

By anon122495 — On Oct 28, 2010

get us some more brief details about web cameras, like how they actually look and like how to connect a web cam to computer. how is the information transmitted through a wireless web camera?

By anon82478 — On May 06, 2010

Thank you for helping me understand what a webcam is.

By anon75209 — On Apr 05, 2010

thank you, very well written and easy to understand by someone not very computer knowledgeable.

By anon27870 — On Mar 07, 2009

Very direct, informative, and clear .... thank you! Now I don't feel like a fool when asked "do you have a webcam!"

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