A webcam is a video camera that feeds its images in real time to a computer or computer network, often via USB, ethernet, or Wi-Fi.
Their most popular use is the establishment of video links, permitting computers to act as videophones or videoconference stations. The common use as a video camera for the World Wide Web gave the webcam its name. Other popular uses include security surveillance, computer vision, video broadcasting, and for recording social videos .
Webcams are known for their low manufacturing cost and flexibility, making them the lowest cost form of videotelephony. They have also become a source of security and privacy issues, as some built-in webcams can be remotely activated via spyware.
Webcams typically include a lens, an image sensor, support electronics, and may also include a microphone for sound. Various lenses are available, the most common in consumer-grade webcams being a plastic lens that can be screwed in and out to focus the camera. Fixed focus lenses, which have no provision for adjustment, are also available. As a camera system's depth of field is greater for small image formats and is greater for lenses with a large f-number (small aperture), the systems used in webcams have a sufficiently large depth of field that the use of a fixed focus lens does not impact image sharpness to a great extent.
Image sensors can be CMOS or CCD, the former being dominant for low-cost cameras, but CCD cameras do not necessarily outperform CMOS-based cameras in the low cost price range. Most consumer webcams are capable of providing VGA resolution video at a frame rate of 30 frames per second. Many newer devices can produce video in multi-megapixel resolutions, and a few can run at high frame rates such as the PlayStation Eye, which can produce 320×240 video at 120 frames per second.
Support electronics read the image from the sensor and transmit it to the host computer. The camera pictured to the right, for example, uses a Sonix SN9C101 to transmit its image over USB. Typically, each frame is transmitted uncompressed in RGB or YUV or compressed as JPEG. Some cameras, such as mobile phone cameras, use a CMOS sensor with supporting electronics "on die", i.e. the sensor and the support electronics are built on a single silicon chip to save space and manufacturing costs. Most webcams feature built-in microphones to make video calling and videoconferencing more convenient.
The USB video device class (UVC) specification allows for interconnectivity of webcams to computers without the need for proprietary device drivers. Microsoft Windows XP SP2, Linux and Mac OS X (since October 2005) have UVC support built in and do not require extra device drivers, although they are often installed to add additional features.
A image of webcam