In the last installment in this series I examined the role of USB 2.0 as the primary means of connecting a webcam to a host computer, and the inherent limitations involved. But USB 2.0 is just so 20th-century…what about the newer, SuperSpeed USB 3.0? Doesn’t this lightning-fast (5 Gbps!) bus promise to allow real 1080p or even 4K webcams? Cheap-as-chips!
The answer to that question is a definite maybe (many thanks to Ray Davies.) However, as a practical matter, USB 3.0 webcams basically don’t exist. Even so, it’s worth having a look a the relatively brief existence of USB 3.0.
I bought my first USB 3.0 portable hard drive about two years ago. At the time I literally didn’t have a computer with an on-board USB 3.0 interface.
Then in the fall of 2011 I bought the BlackMagic Design UltraStudio SDI. This was an HDMI & HD-SDI video capture solution that is USB 3.0 connected to a host computer. Since I didn’t have any USB 3.0 capable hosts I bought a USB 3.0 PCIe card to add to one of my existing PCs.
I never did get the device working in my office. The simple fact of the matter is that USB 3.0 was not supported under Windows XP. I can’t comment on Windows Vista, but it wasn’t until we moved to new hardware running Windows 7 that USB 3.0 became a practical reality.
I would suggest that USB 3.0 has become commonplace very quickly, but even so, that transition has taken a couple of years to occur. It’s still ongoing as there remain a large number of computers running Windows XP. It seems that Intel was laggard in adding USB 3.0 support into chipsets, which kept Microsoft from making it a core part of the OS.
Now that USB 3.0 is more widely installed, what about products built for that method of connectivity? If you search Amazon for USB 3 related products you’ll find the listed results are cables, hubs, interface cards and storage devices. There are USB 3.0 connected hard drives and flash drives, but no webcams.
Logitech claims that their HD Pro Webcam C920 is “USB 3 Ready” but its not entirely clear what that means. A thread on their support forum seems to indicate that it only means that it will work when plugged into a USB 3.0 port! If that’s true it takes no advantage of the higher performance offered by the USB 3.0 bus. On that basis I would think that any USB 2.0 device in existence is “USB 3.0 Ready.”
It’s a pointless and confusing claim to make. It’s an unfortunate exercise in marketecture reflecting poorly on an otherwise class-leading device.
Point Grey does in fact manufacture USB 3.0 attached cameras as Gizmodo noted back in 2009 when a prototype was publicly shown. They even have a 4K capable camera!
That said, the Point Grey cameras are not the cheap-and-cheerful webcams of the consumer realm. They are instrumentation-grade cameras targeting industrial applications. They may be very capable, even considered a bargain at $1K, but clearly beyond the reach of the casual user.
There seems to be a practical reality that there’s little demand for a webcam better than the current state-of-the-art as represented by the two class leaders; the Logitech HD Pro C920 and the Microsoft LifeCam Studio.