How to Set Up a Webcam on a Laptop

by Jeff Grundy
You can use two webcams simultaneously by using two different chat applications.

You can use two webcams simultaneously by using two different chat applications.

In the early 1990s, when the Internet was just beginning to find its way into consumer's homes, email and text-based chat were the only real World Wide Web communication choices. With connection options limited to dial-up modems in most cases, streaming video chat was but a dream for the future. However, when telco companies began to roll out DSL in 1995, things changed. With connection speeds 50 times faster than dial-up, DSL finally provided the bandwidth needed to make video calling a reality. Modern broadband connections are even faster, and by using the webcam integrated in your laptop -- or attaching an external one -- you can engage in almost seamless cam-to-cam video chats with others all over the world.

Built-In Webcam

Click the Start button, then "Devices and Printers." Ensure that the webcam device name displays under the Devices header.

Right-click the device name of the built-in webcam, then click "Properties" in the pop-up menu. In the Properties window for the integrated webcam, click the "Hardware" tab. Ensure that the "Device Status" for the webcam reads, "This Device Is Working Properly." Click "OK" to close the webcam Properties window, then close the Devices and Printers window.

Navigate to the website of the chat service provider you want to use with the webcam. Windows Live Messenger, Skype, Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger are chat clients used by millions of users around the world, and all support video calls or live video chat (links in Resources). Download your preferred chat client from the provider’s website. Save the setup file to a folder on your laptop.

Right-click the Start button, then click "Open Windows Explorer." Navigate to the folder in Windows Explorer where you save the setup file for the chat client. Double-click the "setup.exe" file to launch the installation wizard. Accept the End-User License Agreement if prompted, then follow the on-screen instructions to install the chat client on the laptop. Restart the laptop if prompted to do so.

Launch the video chat application on the laptop. Click the "Sign Up" or "Register" link in the application if you do not already have an account with the chat provider, then follow the prompts to register your email address as a user login for your selected chat client. Most chat providers require that you verify your email address; click the link in the confirmation email you receive from the provider to verify your email address and activate your account.

Log in to the chat application with your username and password. Click “Tools,” "Options," "Preferences" or another similar option on the menu bar, then click "Camera," "Video," "Audio and Video" or "Webcam." Click "Camera Settings" or "Video Settings."

Click "Video and Voice Setup," "Webcam Setup" or another similar link. Speak into the microphone of the webcam if prompted to do so. After the program informs you that you successfully configured audio on the laptop, click "Continue" or "Next."

Verify that you can see yourself in the display window of the "Video Settings" or "Webcam Settings," then click "Finish."

Add friends to the chat client Contacts or Friends list by sending invitations to people you know or with whom you want to chat. You must wait for friends to accept your friend request before you can chat with them. Use the Contacts or Friends tools in the chat application to send reminder to friends you invite if they don’t respond within a day or two of your friend request.

Click on the name of a friend in your contact or friends list, then click "Video Chat" or "Video Call." Wait for the other person to answer the call.

External USB Webcam

Insert the installation disc for the USB webcam if the camera includes one. After the setup wizard appears on the screen, click the "Setup" or "Install" button in the device drivers for the camera and the camera utility application on your computer. Windows does not require third-part drivers for most USB webcams. However, if your webcam ships with a driver disc, use it rather than using the built-in Windows driver, as it probably supports advanced features for the camera that the standard driver does not enable.

Connect the small end of the USB cable to the webcam, then connect the other end to an open USB port on the computer. Wait a few seconds for Windows to recognize the USB webcam and initialize it with the driver you installed from the installation disc. Alternatively, allow Windows to configure the USB webcam with the driver built into the operating system.

Open your video chat application, then click menu option setting for "Video Preferences," "Webcam Settings" or "Audio and Video Settings." Follow the prompts in the chat application to ensure that your webcam settings are correct and that the units displays properly.


  • For the best results when connecting a USB webcam, connect the webcam to a USB port on the rear of the computer rather than one on the front face of the case. Rear USB ports generally provide current and voltage that is more consistent and reliable to devices and offer greater USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 compatibility for higher data transfer or video streaming rates.
  • If your laptop has an integrated webcam, you can install an external one and use both cameras simultaneously. However, you cannot use both webcams with the same application. For example, you could use one webcam to chat with friends in Yahoo Messenger and the other for another chat client such as Facebook or Google Talk.

Items you will need

  • USB cable for external webcam

About the Author

Jeff Grundy has been writing computer-related articles and tutorials since 1995. Since that time, Grundy has written many guides to using various applications that are published on numerous how-to and tutorial sites. Born and raised in South Georgia, Grundy holds a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images