How to Connect a Webcam to a Laptop

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Laptop manufacturers have become aware of this age of video communications, and most laptops sold in 2011 reflect this, with built-in webcams in the LCD assembly. But this hasn't always been the case, and video-ready with an older laptop means buying an external webcam and attaching it to your notebook computer manually. This process is straight-forward, and you'll be video chatting in no time.

  • Check for compatibility. External webcams require drivers and special software to work, and you need to check that the software is compatible with your operating system. If you don't know which version of Windows you are using, press the "Windows" and "Pause" keys on your laptop at the same time to open System Properties. The first section of System Properties tells you which version and edition of Windows your system has. Make sure the webcam software works on this version of Windows -- the information is usually on the outside of the webcam box.

  • Make sure you have USB 2.0 port available on your system. External webcams draw power from your computer and most -- though not all -- require a USB 2.0 port. Some laptops have four or five USB ports, but not all of them are USB 2.0. Press "Windows" and "Pause" again to open System Properties and then click "Device Manager." Click on the plus sign or arrow beside "Universal Serial Bus Controllers" to expand the list of USB hubs, and look for "Enhanced," which indicates a USB 2.0 port. You may need to experiment a bit to find out which of your USB ports is the 2.0 port, but don't worry about this just yet.

  • Insert the CD that came with your webcam into your laptop's disc drive. The specific process to install the software will vary from webcam to webcam, depending on the manufacturer and version of the software, but the steps are almost always the same. The disc will run automatically and you can follow the prompts to install the software. Choose a folder to store the program and customize the options, as desired. If the program prompts you to plug in the webcam, do so. Only plug in the camera when prompted, not before.

  • Position the camera in a place where at least your head can be seen in the test window. During the setup process, the software will initialize the webcam and you can use the image on screen to position the camera. Some webcams are specifically designed for laptops and have a handy hook that you can use to hang the camera from the top of the LCD screen. Other webcams have a wider, but flexible base, and you can manipulate this to sit on top of your LCD. If your webcam has a hard plastic base, find a place for it on your desk or beside the laptop and point the camera up to show your face.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you aren't sure if your webcam is on a USB 2.0 port, look for error message bubbles in the system tray. Windows will let you know with a message saying "This device could perform faster," when a USB 2.0 port is available.
  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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