In 2020, we all learned the hard way just how bad our laptop webcams all are. Theyâ€™re a horrible, grainy mess, and they make for a terrible videoconferencing experience.
Thatâ€™s why I was certain that coming to CES 2021, the virtual show-floor would be flooded with laptops with 1080p webcams. Surely, after over eight months of constant blurry Zoom calls, companies like Lenovo, HP, Dell, and Asus would relieve our pain. But I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Only one company, MSI, had the smarts to bring a proper 1080p webcam to its laptops â€” and itâ€™s not the one you would have thought.
The GE76 and GE77 Raider are two of MSIâ€™s new gaming laptops, both refreshed with new silicon from Nvidia inside and a fresh coat of paint on the outside. The laptops are filled to the brim with interesting new features, but its webcam was what made me do a double-take.
MSI says itâ€™s worked for years behind the scenes to get a 1080p webcam in one of its laptops. Kudos to MSI. Being the only manufacturer with a piece of hardware isnâ€™t easy. It probably wasnâ€™t cheap, either. Itâ€™s not dissimilar to the work Dell had to do behind the scenes to shrink the size of its camera module to squeeze it into the tiny top bezel of the XPS 13. Oftentimes, it takes a lot of extra effort to convince a vendor that manufactures small computer parts to invest in a new technology that wonâ€™t ship in huge volume.
Meanwhile, companies like Lenovo and HP did upgrade their webcams this year, but only to 5 megapixels. Thatâ€™s an improvement, but theyâ€™re still severely held back by the low resolution. As much as I appreciate what MSI has done here, gaming laptops are an odd place to feature a 1080p webcam. We need it in the work laptops weâ€™re stuck using on a daily basis.
At the moment, you can only find 720p webcams in tablets like the Surface Pro or iPad Pro. I spoke to Lenovo about why laptops have remained at 720p while tablets have moved to 1080p. The company replied by saying that in the past, improved webcams just werenâ€™t a priority for its customers. But now that that has changed, Lenovo says making the operational gears of manufacturing take a while to start spinning, especially when it involves so many partnerships.
â€œCameras were not quite getting the job done as well as they should be,â€� said Adam Howes, the product manager of the ThinkPad laptops. â€œPart of that is the hardware, part of that is the pipe coming into the home or wherever you are, and part of that is the software.â€�
It sounds like a lot of things to have to get right, but MSI just proved that it could have been done.
Howes did reassure me that 1080p webcams on Lenovo laptops were in the works. I have to assume thatâ€™s true of other manufacturers as well.
But the idea that new laptops with 720p webcams are still being announced at the worldâ€™s most advanced tech conference is a severe disappointment. For all the talk about empowering remote workers, weâ€™re going to be left out to dry for the foreseeable future â€” unless you start using an MSI gaming laptop for work, that is.
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