During the coronavirus pandemic, a good webcam has never been more important. For months, video calling has been the safest option for people to chat with family, friends and work colleagues.

Laptops have persisted with low-quality 720p webcams for many years, but that seems to be changing. Full HD resolution (1080p) is becoming the new standard, and having a solid front-facing camera is a priority for many consumers. 

However, that's of little use if your camera stops working altogether, and having to rely on voice alone may not be the most effective. Whether your webcam is built-in or connected externally, here are 8 things to try when using a Windows PC. 

1) Test the webcam with another device

If you have an external webcam, this should be your first port of call. Connecting it to another computer (ideally a similar form factor to your primary device) is an easy way to find out if it's the device or webcam that's to blame. Go through the full setup process, and even test on a video call if you can get that far, which will prove there's nothing wrong with the webcam hardware.

2) Make sure the correct device is enabled

Even if you've just connected a webcam, computers have a funny habit of not selecting the right input devices. Some devices also have a tendency to get confused when both a built-in and external webcam are available. Check the settings of the application you're using to ensure it's set to the webcam you want. 

3) Check webcam settings

There are a few settings which may be preventing your webcam from working properly. Here's how to check and change them if necessary:

  1. Head to Settings > Privacy and select "Camera" from the left pane
  2. Ensure that both "Camera access for this device" and "Allow apps to access this camera" are both turned on
  3. Scroll down to where it says "Choose which Microsoft Store apps can access your camera" and ensure whichever software you're using is turned on. This may simply be the "Camera" app in the screenshot below, but also the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and even companion software for the webcam itself

4) Update webcam drivers

Some devices stop working properly if the drivers are out of date. Here's how to update them, whether your webcam is built-in or external:

  1. Right-click on the Start Menu icon in the bottom left of the screen and choose "Device Manager"
  2. Double-click "Cameras" in the window that appears and locate the relevant device (some external webcams may also be listed under "Sound, video and game controllers" or "Imaging devices" instead
  3. Right-click it and check the options that appear. If you see the option to "Enable Device", click it, but if it says "Disable device" you don't need to do anything
  4. In the same right-click menu, select "Update driver"
  5. Choose "Search automatically for updated driver software"
  6. After a few seconds of searching, Windows will prompt you to download any updates that are available. If you see a message saying "The best drivers for your device are already installed", no further attention is needed

5) Check the device connection (wired or wireless)

A less than secure connection can easily stop an external device from working as intended. For wired connections, this isn't particularly advanced: jiggle the cable around to see if your PC recognises it, or simply take it out of the USB port and reconnect. 

A wireless webcam will usually connect via Bluetooth, so it's worth heading into the settings menu to check if it's able to connect to your computer. If you don't see anything, try turning both the PC and webcam off and on again, restarting the pairing process once again.

6) Check the USB port/s

If you've connected an external webcam into the USB port, the port itself may be causing the problem. Insert another device and see if the computer recognises it. You can also try connecting the webcam via another USB port if your device has one.

If not, cleaning the inside of the port with a can of compressed air may help the situation. Should this still not resolve the issue, the money spent on compressed air will not go to waste, as it's an effective tool for cleaning your laptop

7) Check with the manufacturer

Often, the manufacturer of your webcam or device itself will have specific setup/troubleshooting information. Check the user manual that came with them or consult the official website for more guidance. 

Once you've got your webcam back up and running, here's how to look better when on a video call