The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives, possibly forever. At this stage, gone are the big, in-person meetings with colleagues and customers and in are the video conference calls. One of the hats I wear as a day is a university lecturer and now all of my material is delivered online with Zoom video conference calls and I prefer it. No longer do I have to travel 45 minutes to get to the university from my other job, worry about the traffic, car parking etc. Just turn on my PC, fire up the web cam and I’m good to go.
Of course, this is all incumbent upon me having a decent enough webcam for students and others in on video calls to be able to see me properly. This is where the new Dell UltraSharp Webcam comes in. The Dell UltraSharp webcam promises to deliver exceptionally high-quality video with a range of useful features for the dedicated professional looking to optimise their online video presence. Does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out what I thought after using it for a couple of weeks.
So what is it?
It’s a 4K webcam in an unusual package — it is a cylindrical metallic casing which has some heft to it that’s for sure. Inside is a 4K Sony Starvis CMOS sensor and multielement lens to allow the camera to capture more light.
The casing has a magnetic cap/disc that sits on the front or rear of the webcam depending on whether you want to obscure the lens or not — ie. the security conscious of us will place the metallic lens cap over the top of the lens to prevent prying eyes when you are not using the camera. Underneath the cylinder the mount and the USB-C cable plug in.
Any old USB-C cable worked for me although I did need a decent quality one for it to offer the full 4K resolution. As for the mount, there are two in the box — a monitor mount and a mount that can be attached atop a tripod. There’s not much to them but they work well.
The monitor mount allows the camera to be tilted up and down but will not move left or right which is not a massive issue given the software functionality of the camera- more on that below (see AI-powered Auto-framing).
The inherent features of the Dell UltraSharp webcam are controlled using the Dell Peripheral Manager software. Inside this you will be able to adjust your settings such as:
- colour settings — default, smooth, vibrant or warm — the below video was taken with the setting at smooth.
- Camera control — AI Auto framing on or off, FOV, zoom and autofocus on or off.
- Colour and image — HDR, auto white balance, brightness, sharpness, contrast and saturation (I left them at the default levels)
Plug your camera in and, assuming the program you are using it supports 4K, you will notice the difference in image quality from your previous 1080P or 720P webcam straight away — assuming you have a monitor that can display said resolutions (I do). Make sure, if using this in a professional sense, you prepare yourself accordingly before any video with any clients or your boss. The crystal clear 4K webcam will pick up every bit of grey stubble in your beard.
The webcam can be set to auto-zoom where it will zoom in or out to keep you in focus and fully in the picture. This worked well — especially when I was too close where it would zoom out to fit my entire head in the frame. Zooming in when I was further away seemed to work occasionally — I don’t think it is designed for that so it may have just been auto-framing instead of zooming.
The auto-framing uses AI to recognise your face and keep it in the centre of the video. It operates slowly so don’t expect it to jump around if you do — it will wait until you’ve moved, then it needs to recognise your new location and then slowly move to get you in the centre. Although slow, it did work well though and if you are someone who tends to move a bit during videos it will come in very handy — it is also another thing you do NOT have to worry about if you are giving a lecture that will be recorded. Just get the audio material right, the video will take care of itself.
A lot of webcams suffer in image quality when the light in the room is at a low level. With the HDR built into the Dell UltraSharp webcam and the large Sony sensor the colours and lighting of the video were still exceptional. Asd you can see in the video above, whether the room was light or dark, the image quality barely changed.
The webcam also incorporates into Windows so that you can use it as your Windows Hello camera to allow you to sign in quickly and securely using facial recognition each and every time. It worked great for me once I’d set it up — no matter the lighting level on my room.
Sounds perfect right?
Although audio is somewhat an after thought when it comes to video conferencing as most people already have some form or headset/headphones/earbuds or speakers that they use, it is still disappointing that the Dell UltraSharp webcam does not include a microphone of any sort. As I said above, I have multiple speakers/microphones so the lack of audio did not affect me at all and I dare say it will not affect most of you either.
Some reviewers have mentioned issues with video in low lighting but it seemed fine to me but then I’m not a professional video streamer. If you are such a person then I dare say you would have decent studio lighting (or one of the ring lights/diffusers that the influencers love) to allow for any lighting/video issues should they arise. For me though it was just fine — see video above.
I’ve had some people ask me about using these webcams as a video conferencing tool on an Android TV. Unfortunately, the software that controls all the features is Windows only so even if you can get it working with your Android TV it won’t be fully functional. I managed to hook it up to my Nvidia Shield and it sort of worked although the camera kept dropping in and out of being recognised by the system — and the resolution was terrible. I have a 4K TV but my Shield is not a 4K Shield so there was a lot of scaling issues there, but it was very pixelated nonetheless. I’d say for now, not for general consumption with Android in general.
Should you buy it?
4K webcams are incredibly cheap and let’s be honest, most people do not need a 4K webcam for basic video conferencing. For me though I record a lot of my lectures for online access the 4K adds yet more detail to my already amazing lectures (zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz). If you are serious about your streaming — whether it be video conferencing or recording yourself for other purposes, then I can highly recommend the Dell UltraSharp webcam.
The AI Auto-framing is fantastic and works well, although I would prefer it to work a bit faster — maybe with the next iteration of software. The HDR also allows for decent pictures and light in nearly all lighting conditions — keep in mind though that the HDR and 4K combined mean that every single imperfection in your skin/hair will be displayed in that ultra-high definition!
The Dell UltraSharp Webcam (WB7022) is not cheap though but if you are serious about this online conferencing thing it is worth the outlay (especially if your company is paying and not you). It is available in Australia starting at $379, and New Zealand starting at $424.