Web cameras, or just webcams for short, have advanced a long way in a very short period of time. Just a few years ago, they were nearly as complicated to set up and operate as normal video cameras. They were also expensive and only able to offer very low-resolution recordings.
Way back then, I even co-authored a book, “Guide to Webcams,” which helped people pick out the best camera for their needs and then create content to help make their presentations a success. That book was very popular, but these days it’s become obsolete. Most webcams offer one touch USB setups, can record in HD resolution or higher, and are being sold for about the cost of a single AAA video game. Here at GiN, many of our affiliated program stars use them all the time, and their shows look amazing. Check out the Star Trek focused Trekker’s Delight Podcast or top gamer/variety streamer Scodysk’s unique take on video games if you want to see some great uses for modern webcams.
But just because cameras are now much easier to purchase and use does not mean that they are all created equal. A couple months ago, we reviewed an entry level camera for streamers who were just starting out, and we found that the Toucan W100 was a great deal for that market. Today we are looking at a different web camera, the Monoprice 2K USB Webcam, which is designed to run at 2K resolution, and even comes with its own built-in studio light.
As with most webcams these days, the Monoprice 2K is extremely easy to set up. In fact, it does not come with any software at all. You simply plug it into any USB port, and you’re ready to go. Once plugged in, we easily linked it to our webcam software orchestration platform which gave us total control over the camera. Serious streamers will probably want to have something like that because other than the manual light switch to activate the aforementioned studio light, there are no other manual controls. The camera will function just fine on its own, but you won’t be able to change the resolution or perform any advanced features without some type of third-party management software.
The Monoprice 2K, as the name implies, is able to record at very high resolutions. The default setting is for 2,592 by 1,944 (5 megapixel) resolution. At that setting, everything looks extremely detailed, yet the file sizes (if you are not just streaming live) are not too unmanageable. We ran lots of tests, and the webcam was able to capture highly detailed images in a variety of situations and lighting conditions. In addition to that, the built-in microphone did a great job of picking up conversation from those in front of the camera, even if they were not right in front of the lens.
One thing that sets the Monoprice 2K webcam apart from others in the same class is the inclusion of one of those rounded, fluorescent-looking (really an LED) lights that sits around the lens of the camera. A small button on the front of the unit turns the light on. Clicking it again brightens the ring and clicking it a third time makes it extremely bright. Finally, pushing it a fourth time turns it off and resets the cycle. That is a feature that the Toucan did not have. It’s a nice addition, especially for beginner streamers, because it provides really good lighting without having to go out and buy special standalone lights and then having to worry about getting them in a perfect position before a show or stream.
In our testing, the first level of brightness was normally adequate to ensure good image capture, especially if the rest of the room had normal room lighting. If you are sitting in the dark, then moving up to level two is probably recommended. Another situation where the second level of brightness is helpful is when using a green screen for a background. We found that the extra level of light made the rendered background much crisper. It also helped the software to more cleanly define the edge between a speaker and the virtual background on the green screen, keeping the area free from jitters and shadows.
Level three is a bit of an overkill. It could work well if you are recording in, for example, a larger room with participants sitting farther back from the camera. But for single web presentations or meetings, level three is far too bright, especially considering that it sits right where you are probably going to be looking when you speak into the camera. Still, it’s nice that it’s included.
The Monoprice 2K Webcam also comes with a privacy filter, but oddly enough, it’s not attached to the camera by default. The little porthole-like device has a sticker on the back that attaches it to the webcam after you peel off the protective plastic. I can see someone messing up the placement (I’ve been known to be a bit clumsy at times with this sort of thing) and then having the shield stuck off-center, or even blocking the lens itself while the door is open. It’s a loose enough seal that you can probably reattach it, but something as important as a privacy screen should probably be installed as part of the base unit’s design.
The Monoprice 2K webcam not only helps entry-level streamers easily start to produce professional, high-quality videos, but also assists with the lighting for them as well. And with a sub-$60 price point, you really can’t ask for much more than that from a modern webcam.