Getting the most out of your webcam

Muf

Forum Moderator
#1
Webcams often have very bad default settings. In this guide I'll cover some of the ways in which you can make your webcam picture smoother and look better.

  1. High Definition, MJPG
    So you bought an HD 1080p webcam, but the picture looks suspiciously soft? Often the default resolution reported to OBS is not the maximum supported. Additionally, the default format is often uncompressed, so only a low framerate is supported at higher resolutions (USB cannot transmit high def video at 30fps without some form of compression).

    To unlock both the higher resolution and smooth framerate, check Custom Resolution, check Use Preferred Output Type, and set the dropdown to MJPG. Then select your preferred resolution, and make sure that FPS is set to 30.


  2. Auto exposure

    So you've followed the above steps but your webcam still looks like it's only capturing at 10fps? It does this because the auto exposure wants the picture too bright while gain/brightness is set too low by default. As a result, the exposure time becomes longer than 1/30th of a second, and the stream becomes choppy (a side effect is that skin tones are probably washed out to white, as well).

    Start off by configuring your webcam device:


    In Camera Control, uncheck the checkbox next to Exposure, and inch the slider to the left until your camera picture stops stuttering. If the picture is now too dark, it means your room lighting is dim. Go to Video Proc Amp, drag Contrast all the way to 0, and then adjust Brightness (sometimes called Gain) until the picture is bright enough. If the image appears too flat, you can inch the Contrast slider back to the right a bit until things look good.

    While this method will increase noise, most of the noise tends to get eaten by the x264 encoder when streaming to the internet, and I personally vastly prefer a slightly noisy but smooth stream over a stuttery one.

  3. Autofocus

    Most webcams have autofocus enabled by default. I have yet to encounter one that doesn't continually keep refocusing the picture even when there is absolutely no need to.

    Go to Camera Control and uncheck the checkbox next to Focus. Then drag the focus slider all the way to the right and inch it to the left until the important areas of the picture are sharp.

  4. Power line flicker

    Most indoor lighting will flicker at either the power line frequency or a multiple of it. This manifests itself in the form of dark horizontal bands running through the picture. In Video Proc Amp, the PowerLine Frequency (Anti Flicker) setting should be set to the value appropriate for your region. If you travel a lot with a laptop, this may change depending on where you're staying. For the Americas and Japan, this should be set to 60Hz. For Europe, Australia and most other parts of the world, it should be 50Hz. If the bands don't disappear when you change the setting, you're most likely lit by fluorescent lighting (TL or energy saving bulbs) with an internal high frequency inverter, or by LED lighting with a duty cycle. In that case, the only thing you can do is raise your exposure time until the bands disappear.

  5. Auto white balance

    Computer screens tend to emit an eerie blue light, which web cameras have difficulty to adjust to. Letting the camera decide what white balance to use usually results in either zombie faces or in worse cases smurf faces. In most situations you don't have to do much about your lighting (although good lighting is always a good thing to invest in), just take control of your white balance and make everything a bit warmer.
    Go to Video Proc Amp and uncheck the checkbox next to White Balance. Drag the slider until your skin is a nice pink hue.


That's it! You can play with some of the other sliders available, but generally they won't need much adjustment. Note that exposure and white balance can change with the time of day if you sit close to a window. Manual adjustments can be a bit tedious because of this but the alternative is a choppy stream with ugly colours. If you want none of that, I suggest investing in a camcorder with live HDMI output coupled with an HDMI capture card, but this will easily cost $600 or more.

EDIT:
Addendum - MJPEG Decoder
If your webcam supports MJPEG and you followed the earlier advice of enabling it, you may encounter poor performance (juddery motion) and/or washed-out colours. This is a result of Microsoft's own MJPEG decoder being forced to load instead of any third-party filters you might have installed, even if their "merit" (DirectShow's filter priority) is higher than Microsoft's MJPEG decoder. To fix this, first install a suitable MJPEG decoder if you don't already have one; I use ffdshow. If you already have ffdshow you may need to enable MJPEG in the config:



Then, get Win7DSFilterTweaker, click "Preferred decoders", and set MJPEG to decode using ffdshow:



Then click "Apply & Close".
 
Last edited:

Floatingthru

Community Helper
#3
Wow, thank you for this! I thought it was just obs making my cam laggy. BTW I had to uninstall my lifecam software (not drivers) to be able to see the MJPG format. 1080p 30fps looks nice, and no longer regret buying this cam over the logitech 920.
 

Muf

Forum Moderator
#4
Yeah my advice for people with Microsoft webcams would be not to install the software at all. The standard driver you get from Windows Update is fine, and doesn't come bundled with annoying gimmicks.

If you keep getting a notice about installing the software (Windows Live Messenger for instance does this), install the following .reg file:
Code:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\MSNDeviceManager]
"InstallDir"="%windir%"

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\MSNDeviceManager]
"InstallDir"="%windir%"
Which will prevent the nag screen from appearing.
 

Bwana

New Member
#7
Is there any way to get the Zoom/Pan/Tilt sliders to work? Since I can't crop the webcam image, I'd like to use these. This is useful for those of us using Chroma Key.
 

Muf

Forum Moderator
#8
Warchamp7 said:
What do I do if my White Balance slider when not set to auto just changes my webcam to a color of the rainbow lol
What if you tick Auto, then wait for the white balance to adjust, and then untick it? It should be at a value that's selectable manually. Also you may have really bad lighting and/or an exceptionally bad webcam.

Bwana said:
Is there any way to get the Zoom/Pan/Tilt sliders to work? Since I can't crop the webcam image, I'd like to use these. This is useful for those of us using Chroma Key.
Some webcams don't support zoom/pan/tilt. Mine does, and it works fine. Not sure how to troubleshoot problems with it, sorry.
 

Muf

Forum Moderator
#12
Added instructions on how to disable Microsoft's pesky MJPEG decoder that causes poor frame rates and washed out colours.
 
#13
Muf said:
Warchamp7 said:
What do I do if my White Balance slider when not set to auto just changes my webcam to a color of the rainbow lol
What if you tick Auto, then wait for the white balance to adjust, and then untick it? It should be at a value that's selectable manually. Also you may have really bad lighting and/or an exceptionally bad webcam.
If I set it to auto, the value just chills at 6300 and it goes auto. Unticking it does nothing, but as soon as I move the slider, everything tints blue and moving the slider just changes the colour.

It really sucks as far as lighting is concerned so it's probably just shitty.
 
#14
Floatingthru said:
BTW I had to uninstall my lifecam software (not drivers) to be able to see the MJPG format.
Similar case here. I have a LifeCam Studio and with with default shipped drivers MJPEG is available in both 32 bit mode and 64 bit mode.
After installing the LifeCam software and drivers MJPEG is only available in 32 bit mode. That's weird.
I like to use the LifeCam software because it allows quick access to the cam's settings particularly the PTZ feature.
 

Muf

Forum Moderator
#15
philpav said:
After installing the LifeCam software and drivers MJPEG is only available in 32 bit mode. That's weird.
I like to use the LifeCam software because it allows quick access to the cam's settings particularly the PTZ feature.
So use 32 bit mode. There's almost no advantage to using 64 bit mode anyway.
 
#18
Thanks Muf! Great guide.

Does your MS LifeCam still do automatic focal length adjustments after you turn off autofocus? Because mine does. I have the LifeCam Cinema (720p). It seems to focus less often, but it's still annoying that it does it at all.
 

Muf

Forum Moderator
#19
willll162904 said:
should streaming your cam in 1080 lag your stream like hell? thats what happens to me
That's what happens for me when I don't disable the Microsoft MJPEG decoder. With ffdshow set as MJPEG decoder it doesn't lag at all.
Andypro said:
Does your MS LifeCam still do automatic focal length adjustments after you turn off autofocus? Because mine does. I have the LifeCam Cinema (720p). It seems to focus less often, but it's still annoying that it does it at all.
It seems that when you first turn off autofocus, the range of values is different from when you turn it on with autofocus disabled. So if you have autofocus on, turn it off, and adjust the focus to be sharp, the next time you turn it on it will be out of focus. If you then adjust it again you'll find the values that are sharp are in a totally different range than they were before. After you've adjusted focus the second time, the values stay valid every time you turn on the webcam from then on (providing that autofocus stays off the whole time). It's a bit odd for sure.
 
#20
I just want to thank you for this guide. I use the Microsoft LifeCam Studio webcam and this helped me out a lot. Everything looks much smoother and just better all around.
 
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