Even in 2015, $100 webcams still have pretty crappy video quality. They have tiny sensors that don’t pull in enough light. Here’s the output from a popular Logitech webcam:
Ugh. Faded, bad colors. Instead, check out how a GoPro Hero4 looks as a webcam:
Awww, yeah – what a difference. Here’s how to make it happen:
- Buy a GoPro Hero4 Silver (around $400)
- HDMI to MicroHDMI cable (around $7)
- Blackmagic Design UltraStudio Mini Recorder (around $150)
- Apple Thunderbolt Cable (around $40)
- And to put the camera on your desk, if you’d rather not use the GoPro’s built-in mounting brackets, get the AmazonBasics mini tripod (around $10) and the GoPro skeleton housing (around $30) – so you can mount it to a tripod and have the power & video cables plugged in
Do not buy the more expensive GoPro Hero4 Black. Sure, it shoots higher resolution 4K videos, but that doesn’t matter when it’s used as a webcam because the GoPros only output 1080p resolution via the HDMI cables we’ll be using. It also doesn’t have a screen on the back to show your framing. (In theory, the Black has a phone app that acts as a display, but it’s terribly unreliable.)
The Blackmagic Mini Recorder piece does the magic – in converts an HDMI (video) signal to Thunderbolt. If you’re a Windows user without Thunderbolt ports, use the Blackmagic Design Intensity HDMI-to-USB3 capture device – same basic principle there. I’m using the Thunderbolt one because it’s cheaper and smaller, and my Mac has free Thunderbolt ports.
Step 1 – Plug everything in.
The UltraStudio is powered by Thunderbolt, but plug the GoPro into a USB port since it’ll be running for hours on end. Don’t even bother trying to use the built-in battery – it’ll die out after an hour.
Step 2 – Turn Off the GoPro’s Output Displays.
By default, the GoPro’s HDMI output shows things like the time and the recording status onscreen. That’s ugly. Power on the GoPro, and then go into its setup menus to turn OSD (OnScreen Display) off.
Step 3 – Set the UltraStudio Mini Recorder defaults to HD.
After installing the Mini Recorder’s drivers, it defaults to standard definition video. I know, right? Go into Apple, System Preferences, Blackmagic Design, and click on the UltraStudio Mini Recorder. Change the video input from SDI to HDMI:
If you don’t do this, the Mini Recorder just outputs a black video stream.
Step 4 – Fire Up Your Webcam App.
In Google Hangouts, for example, when I go to choose a camcorder, Blackmagic is listed as one of the input sources. Choose 1080p29.97 (the resolution that your GoPro puts out) and presto:
Unfortunately, not all apps offer native support for video capture devices:
- Google Hangouts – works
- Skype v7.6 – works
- Telestream Screenflow v5.0 – works
- Cisco WebEx Meeting Center v29.13.4 – does not work
- GoToMeeting v7.1.5 – does not work
When I’m recording training videos or doing long chats with clients, here’s how I use it on my desk:
I know – it looks a little goofy having the webcam right in the middle of the monitor, but that’s because I’m using a ginormous 32″ Benq monitor (around $600). When I’m doing chats with clients, I want them to feel like I’m looking ’em right in the eye, so having the webcam at eye level helps. (I’m using a standing desk.) There’s plenty of space to run browsers and applications on either side of the camera.
Should everybody go this far? Of course not – but when you make a living online talking to other people, you don’t want to look like a faded-out relic from the 90s.