Thanks topandemic that forces so many of our professional and social interactions online, we are now in the age of the video call. is the video conferencing platform of choice for our meetings on CNET, and my kids and their friends spend hours on FaceTime, Instagram, and Google Hangouts. Whichever platform you use, is central to our lives and it is a good time to make upgrades.
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First, it is essential to have the right equipment, including the best webcam and microphone. Unfortunately, most cases are those of your laptopand the smell of the microphone – and they keep you from appearing as professional as possible during video conference calls. You should ditch the integrated webcam and invest in a standalone webcam and stereo microphone with noise canceling. Even a cheap webcam with autofocus and a decent microphone can improve the image quality and sound enough to take things to the next level during a video conference.
However, upgrading your audio and video technology is technically quite simple and relatively affordable – and it will drastically improve your production values in virtual meetings. We’ve put together a shortlist of some equipment that will enhance your video chats with input from CNET’s camera team, who now also all work from home. Our favorite picks for the best webcam and external microphone options are below, and we’ll be updating this regularly.
(Please note that prices are correct at the time of original publication, but may fluctuate, especially given the increasing demand for this type of equipment. In addition, availability and delivery times are constantly changing, so be sure to check before proceeding. goes with purchase.)
After the masses started working from home in mid-March, it became difficult to find a branded webcam anywhere. My favorites – Logitech’s StreamCam and the 4K-compatible Brio – are pricey and often out of stock, but worth the money if you can find them.
In the meantime, if your laptop’s built-in camera doesn’t work, you can use a tripod and your phone’s HD camera to improve the quality of the video chat during live streaming. Here’s how to do it.
I’ve tried loads of lights over the past few months and so far the Lume Cube is my favorite. This bright LED light is highly adjustable – with a physical switch to change brightness and color temperature – and the handy display shows all levels and how much juice is left in the USB-C rechargeable battery. You can place it in landscape or portrait mode using the included suction cup mount.
About that mountain. I should note that there are many complaints from Amazon users that it is not working properly, but I am unable to replicate the problem with my Lume Cube. I’ve tethered it tightly to the back of multiple laptops and a standalone monitor, and I can’t pull the thing off – even with sustained force – without unfastening the suction mechanism first.
My backup choice is the Joby Beamo Mini, which is about the same price as the Lume Cube. It’s extremely compact, waterproof and – capable of putting out 1,000 lumens – incredibly bright, although the iOS app and included diffuser make it easy to set the perfect amount of light. It has a magnetic back that sticks to any metal surface and can also be screwed onto a tripod.
Nothing can torpedo an online meeting faster than background noise and audio switching on and off, and your laptop’s crappy built-in microphone can be the culprit. Once you’ve added a decent webcam to your setup you’ll be in better shape, but a stand-alone microphone will keep you sounding clear, rich and full. This Blue Yeti model has long been a staple of podcasters and streamers, and it’s what I use when recording audio or participating in a high-stakes video chat.
Yes, it looks like something you’d see in a 1940s radio station, but the audio technology is 100% modern. It has three capsule microphones, four recording patterns (for different types of recordings) and just enough controls to optimize the way you sound without overloading you with super technical features.
GripTight / Amazon
It’s hard to multitask in a web conference: opening and closing apps, resizing browsers and windows, talking to your boss on your Google hangout or Zoom call – it can all be a bit much. One solution is to transfer all your audio and video recording tasks to your phone – which may have better camera, video quality, and microphone technology after all – so you can free up your laptop to take notes, consult documents and spreadsheets, or whatever. (Here’s how to do it.)
If you’re going this route, you’ll want to have an adjustable tripod that can hold your phone securely steady – and at a flattering angle. I like this tripod kit from Joby, which is currently on sale for $ 30, including a clamp big enough for my iPhone XS Max. And I also like the company’s bendable Gorillapods, which wrap around poles or other non-flat surfaces.
Sarah Tew / CNET
If you’re using an older MacBook Air or Windows laptop that came out a few years ago, you’ll find that a single Zoom session can buzz your computer’s fans and slash your multitasking options to zero. Getting a newer laptop with an updated processor and webcam software – a ninth or tenth generation Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 would do the trick – will make those video conferencing sessions a lot easier to bear.
I recently put my outdated MacBook Air aside and bought a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga and am amazed at everything I missed: super-fast speed (thanks to the modern Intel processor), USB-C ports, and a touchscreen display. It currently starts at $ 1,377. For other recommendations, check out our list of the best laptops for 2021.
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