We’ve talked about this issue in the past, but it bears repeating until it is fixed: Chromebooks simply need better webcams. The standard 720p cameras that ship in most Chromebooks range from only adequate or just plain awful. There are only a few standouts available right now, and they are both from Google themselves in the Pixel Slate and Pixelbook Go. While most video chat services don’t push anything past 720p, there are some that do (Duo is starting to offer 1080p chats) and it is likely that more will offer it as an option as more and more people use video chats as a way to communicate, learn, and get work done.
It takes time to correct hardware issues that weren’t that big of a deal only six months ago, so there’s nothing Google or any manufacturer can really do to fix the situation right now for existing Chromebooks and those that will launch in the next few months. During their development, webcams simply weren’t as important as they are today, so cost-cutting measures likely hit many of these new and existing Chromebook webcams and resulted in sub-optimal sensors and optics.
1080p webcams are on the way
It would seem that the ‘Volteer’ line of 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake Chromebooks could change this trend moving forward, though. While it is unlikely that all of these Chromebooks (there are many in development already) will employ this 1080p sensor we’re seeing in the Chromium Repositories, it is likely that many of them will. Here’s a quick look at what we’re seeing:
UPSTREAM: media: i2c: Add ov2740 image sensor driver
OminiVision ov2740 is a 2 megapixels RAW RGB image sensor which can deliver 1920×1080@60fps frames. This driver add the support of vertical blanking, exposure, test pattern, digital and analog gain control for sensor.– via the Chromium Repositories
For even a bit more on this specific sensor, you can see the official product page from OmniVision here. This sensor brings a lot to the table for a webcam in a Chromebook, including HDR and 1080p video capture at 60 frames per second. There’s also mention of motion detection and gesture controls, but we have no reason to believe those features are being worked on by Google for Chrome OS at this point. Here’s a snapshot from the company’s listing:
Built on a 1.4-micron pixel, the OV2740 PureCel image sensor boasts a signal-to-noise ratio of less than 50 lux, with improvements in full-well capacity (FWC) and sensitivity. The sensor records best-in-class 1080p HD video at 60 fps and 720p HD video at 90 fps, and uses staggered high dynamic range (HDR) to minimize motion artifacts to capture crisp, clear video in difficult lighting conditions.– via OVT.com
The big highlight here is clearly the video capture at 1080p, but the addition of some HDR (high dynamic range) and low light capability clearly add much-needed functionality to the webcam capture abilities over the current crop of Chromebooks available and launching soon. No one saw the pandemic coming a year ago when these Chromebooks were being built, so I can’t blame anyone for the oversight. However, moving forward, we can’t continue to see Chromebooks roll out with garbage webcams any longer. COVID-19 changed some behaviors forever, and reliance on webcams in our laptops is one of those things.
For many users, whether it is work, school or general connections, cameras on our devices are more important than they’ve ever been. Regardless of the operating system, all laptops should have far better webcams on them (looking at you, Apple). When our phones have far more limitations on space and still fit in fantastic front-facing cameras, there’s no excuse for any laptop to be as woefully behind the curve as they are right now. It’s time for this trend to change, and it looks like Chrome OS is already on the right track to making that happen.