Whether you’re connecting with friends and family, going to school or working from home, in the age ofmost of our social and professional interactions are taking place online. is the platform of choice for CNET meetings, and my kids and their buddies are sucking up our bandwidth on FaceTime, Instagram and Google Hangouts. Whichever platform you’re using, has become the new normal, and it’s time to up your video call game.
Part of this means— choosing the right environment, optimizing lighting conditions, and positioning the camera lens just the right way. A professional Twitch streamer has all this down, but even a newbie can pick it up easily enough. The other part is having the right gear, including the best webcam, microphone and more. In most cases, I’m sorry to say, your laptop’s and microphone stink — and they’re preventing you from coming across as professionally as possible on videoconferencing calls. Investing in a standalone webcam and stereo microphone makes a world of difference. Even a cheap webcam with autofocus and a decent microphone can help take things to the next level when on a videoconference.
Upgrading your audio and video tech is fairly easy from a technical perspective, however, and relatively affordable — and it will dramatically improve your production values in virtual meetings. We’ve compiled a shortlist of our favorite cameras, microphones and the other gear that will enhance your video chatting with input from CNET’s on-camera video team, all of whom are working from home now, too. Our favorite picks for the best webcam and external mic options are below, and we’ll update this periodically. We can guarantee that you will be able to up your videoconferencing game significantly.
(Note that prices are accurate at time of original publication, but may fluctuate — especially given the surging demand for this type of gear. Also, availability and delivery times are changing all the time, so be sure to check before moving forward with any purchase.)
Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920
After the masses began working from home in mid-March, Logitech’s affordable Logitech C920 full HD external webcam became sold out everywhere. But you can sometimes find this full HD web cam online for $80 to $120. Note that the C920s is the same model with a flipdown privacy shutter; the C922 offers lower 720p resolution but a higher framerate (60fps).
And if you can’t get your hands on the C920 Logitech webcam, I’d recommend looking for Logitech’s excellent StreamCam, another full HD streaming webcam that’s great for shooting YouTube videos, video streaming or video conferencing that often sells out quickly.
Get a better microphone
Blue Yeti USB mic
Nothing can torpedo an online meeting quicker than background noise and audio that’s cutting in and out, and your laptop’s lousy built-in microphone may be the culprit. Once you’ve added a decent webcam to your setup, you’ll be in better shape — but a standalone microphone will make you sound clear, rich and full. This Blue Yeti model has long been a staple of podcasters and streamers, and it’s what I use when I record audio or participate in a high-stakes video chat.
Yes, it looks like something you’d see in a 1940s radio station, but the audio technology is 100% modern. It has three capsule microphones, four pickup patterns (for different kinds of recording) and just enough controls to help optimize the way you sound without overloading you with super technical features.
Fix the lighting
Joby Beamo Mini LED light
If you sit in front of a white wall or uncovered windows, your webcam will try to balance it out, shrouding you in a silhouette. The solution: Position a light behind your web camera that shines on your face. With many cheaper video lights now sold out, we’re looking at more premium ones like the Joby Beamo Mini. It’s on the more expensive side, but it’s extremely compact, waterproof and — capable of blasting out 1,000 lumens — incredibly bright, though the iOS app and included diffuser make it simple to dial in the perfect amount of light. It has a magnetic back that will stick to any metal surface and will also screw into a tripod.
Free up your laptop
Phone tripod mount
It’s hard to multitask on a webconference: Opening and closing apps, resizing browsers and windows, all while you’re talking to your boss on your Google hangout or Zoom call — it can all be a bit much. One solution is to offload all of your audio and video recording tasks to your phone — which may have better camera, video quality and mic technology, anyway — freeing up your laptop to take notes, consult documents and spreadsheets or whatever else. (Here’s how to do it.)
If you take this route, you’re going to want to have an adjustable tripod that can securely hold your phone steady — and at a flattering angle. I like this tripod kit from Joby, which includes a clamp that’s big enough to accommodate my iPhone XS Max. And I also like the company’s bendy Gorillapods, which can be wrapped around posts or other nonflat surfaces.
Get a laptop with a decent processor
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga
If you’re running an older MacBook Air or Windows laptop that came out several years ago, you’ll find that a single Zoom session can send your computer’s fans whirring and reduce your multitasking options to zero. Getting a newer laptop with an updated processor and webcam software — a ninth- or 10th-gen Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 should do the trick — will make those videoconferencing sessions a lot easier to bear.
I recently put aside my aging MacBook Air and picked up a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga and have been amazed by all that I was missing out on: blazing speed (courtesy of the modern Intel processor), USB-C ports and a touchscreen display. It currently starts at $1,440. For other recommendations, check out our list of the best laptops for 2020.