In 2020, we all learned the hard way how bad our laptop webcams are. They are a terrible grainy mess and make for a terrible video conferencing experience.
Because of this, I was certain that the virtual exhibition space at CES 2021 would be flooded with laptops with 1080p webcams. After over eight months of constant blurry Zoom calls, companies like Lenovo, HP, Dell, and Asus would certainly take our pain away. But I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Only one company, MSI, had the intelligence to bring a proper 1080p webcam to their laptops – and that's not what you would have thought.
The GE76 and the GE77 Raider are two of the new gaming laptops from MSI, both of which have been given new silicon from Nvidia on the inside and a new coat of paint on the outside. The laptops are filled to the brim with interesting new features, but the webcam made me want to take a double shot.
According to MSI, it worked behind the scenes for years to install a 1080p webcam in one of its laptops. Kudos to MSI. It's not easy to be the only manufacturer with hardware. It probably wasn't cheap either. It's not dissimilar to the work Dell had to do behind the scenes to shrink the size of its camera module and cram it into the XPS 13's tiny top bezel. Often it takes extra effort to convince a manufacturer who makes small-scale computer parts to invest in a new technology that doesn't ship in bulk.
In the meantime, companies like Lenovo and HP have updated their webcams this year, but only to 5 megapixels. That's an improvement, but the low resolution still holds it back a lot. As much as I appreciate what MSI has done here, gaming laptops are an odd place to put a 1080p webcam. We need it in the work laptops that we use every day.
Currently, you can only find 720p webcams in tablets like the Surface Pro or iPad Pro. I spoke with Lenovo about why laptops stayed at 720p while tablets moved to 1080p. The company responded that improving webcams has not been a priority for its customers in the past. But now that this has changed, according to Lenovo, it takes a while for manufacturing operations to turn, especially when there are so many partnerships involved.
"Cameras didn't do the job as well as they should," said Adam Howes, product manager for ThinkPad laptops. "Part of it is the hardware, part of it is the line that goes into the house or wherever you are, and part of it is the software."
It sounds like a lot of things to do right, but MSI has only proven that it could have been done.
Howes assured me that 1080p webcams on Lenovo laptops were in the works. I have to assume that this also applies to other manufacturers.
The idea that new laptops with 720p webcams are still being announced at the world's most advanced technology conference is a serious disappointment. With all the talk of remote worker empowerment, we won't have to dry up for the foreseeable future – unless you're using an MSI gaming laptop for work.