How to use your digital video camera as a webcam for cheap

By braniac

We all know most cheap webcams look like crap and the good ones cost way too much. So if you have a digital video camera lying around, or actually even an analog one, you can use it as a webcam. The picture quality will be so much better than the average webcam.

Things You'll Need

  • a video capture card
  • a camera
  • a program with webcam capabilities like an IM program

Step 1

The basic idea behind this is that you want to use a webcam to video chat with people and you want it to actually look good but you don't want to spend over $100 for a decent one. You already have a digital video camera that can surpass the quality of any webcam so why double up and buy a really nice, dedicated webcam? Using your DV cam as a webcam makes the most sense. The only thing you're missing in order to do that is a video processing device for your computer. Thankfully, you can get one for as low as $15 these days. So the first step is to purchase one.

Step 2

What you're going to want to use is called a video capture card. There are external boxes and all sorts of other devices for this but the cheapest would be to get an internal PCI one. It sounds complicated to add something to your computer but it's really quite simple. All you really have to do is open the computer and stick the card in and maybe install a driver for it. For further details, I'm sure there's an ehow article about installing PCI cards. I would recommend buying a video capture card from They have a good selection of cheap ones and all of them have ratings from people who bought them so you'll know which ones are good. Also, you might want to consider getting a TV tuner card/video capture card combo. Almost all capture cards these days have a tuner in them, plus it's awesome to be able to watch TV on your PC. You can even program it to record shows like a DVR. And don't worry about buying a really cheap one. Those $100+ cards like the ATI All In Wonder card aren't really much better at all, especially for webcam chatting. The only thing you'll want to look for when it comes to stats on whatever card you buy is what type of inputs it takes compared to what type of outputs your camera has. Most DV cameras will output using the standard yellow composite video port. Nicer ones will output with S-video. See the attached picture for a TV tuner card with one of each types of inputs.

Step 3

Almost all video capture cards come with some sort of viewing software, as do most TV tuner cards. If you bought just a capture card, you should be all set. If you bought a TV tuner card, you may have to open the TV viewer program and switch it over to the video in setting instead of television before using it. If you don't, your webcam chatting program may ignore the input from the camera and send the person a live feed of whatever TV channel you were last watching. That's actually sort of a neat trick to do too.

Step 4

Now that the software is all set up, plug your camera's video output into the card's input using the appropriate cable. If you somehow mismatched types, there are converters to go between s-video and composite, like the adapter shown in the attached picture. Once the camera is hooked up, turn it on and use your card's viewing software to confirm that you're actually receiving signal from the camera. As for the audio, I wouldn't recommend hooking up your camera's audio out to the card's audio in. Using a headset with a microphone or even just a cheap computer mic will sound a lot better and you won't have to sit so close to the camera.

Step 5

Now that the capture card is functioning, all you need to do is set up your webcam program. The most common use for webcam discussions is an IM program like Windows Live Messenger, AIM, Yahoo Messenger, etc. Each program has a slightly different way to set the webcam settings but they each pretty much do the same things. First you pick which device you want to use, then you tweak how the picture looks. The attached screenshot shows what the current version of Windows Live Messenger's audio/video setup screen looks like. All you really have to do is choose your video capture device from the list. As you can see, I have a TV tuner/capture card made by AverMedia installed in my computer. On the following screen I think it asks you to set the brightness and contrast and that's about it. So then when you press the "start webcam conversation" button while talking to a friend using that program, it will start sending a feed directly from the camera through the capture card. So simply turn on the camera, point it at yourself, and you're ready to go.

Tips & Warnings

  • Capture cards can also be used with a VCR's composite outputs to convert VHS tapes to digital video files, which can be burned to DVDs
  • You can hook up any video device to the card, not just cameras. So if you want, hook up a DVD player to it and watch a movie with someone over the webcam connection.
  • You need a pretty fast internet connection for the webcam feed to not look choppy. But since the capture card processes the video itself, the picture will look as good as it possibly can on your connection.
  • A very, very small percentage of capture cards won't show up as video devices to IM programs. You may want to contact the manufacturer if you're not sure.

References & Resources