Can You See Me now? Microsoft Suffering New Windows 10 Webcam Strategy

It seems that others have now encountered the change in how Windows 10 handles webcams after the Anniversary update. Many applications simply never try to go beyond 720p30, so it wasn’t clear to me how many people would be impacted by this change.

After my initial post about this on 8/4 I dropped news of the trouble in the related support forums for OBS, vMix, and Wirecast. My thought was that people involved in the production of streaming media could possibly be impacted.

How ironic that in the two weeks since there’s been a flood of complaints about the Anniversary Update breaking webcam access in Skype. It hadn’t occurred to me that Skype, a Microsoft product(!), would also be impacted.

It seems that, post update, the combination of Skype and a Logitech C920 or C930e can launch a video call, but it fails shortly thereafter. My expectation is that Skype starts the call with a modest video stream, 720p or less. Once the streams are flowing and it senses that the connection is good, it tries to switch to better quality and the video stops.

It knows that the camera is capable of 1080p30 when using MJPEG or H.264. However, the new frame server mechanism that’s intended to allow webcam sharing doesn’t fetch compressed streams from the camera, nor deliver them to a client app. So when Skype requests 1080p from the frame server the video is simply lost.

Although I seldom use it, Skype still has a vast installed base. Combine this with the fact that the Logitech C920 is probably the world’s single most popular webcam, and you have millions of people impacted.

The trouble is enough that Thurrott.com and Ars Technica picked up the story. Ars Technica cites my initial post as one of the first reports of the problem.

In a thread on MSDN the Microsoft developer responsible for cameras has explained the intent of the frame server, which is notable. What they failed to appreciate is how its present state would impact legacy apps. Any apps smart enough to specifically request MJPEG or H.264 simply fail when the frame server will not comply.

They have now accepted the need to deliver compressed streams from the frame server, and are reportedly already testing a version that can deliver MJPEG. So an initial fix that isn’t too far away. Apparently adding H.264 capability in the frame server is more difficult, so that will take longer to implement.

Happily, there is an immediate workaround. If you have installed the Anniversary Update and require normal webcam functionality you can use the following registry hack to disable the new frame server mechanism.

Try opening up HKLM\SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node\Microsoft\Windows Media Foundation\Platform and add a DWORD with name EnableFrameServerMode. Set its value to 0 and try again. For 64-bit apps (e.g. UWP Skype), use the same path above, minus WOW6432Node.

I have made these two registry tweaks on my laptop and confirmed that OBS Studio and vMix now have access to MJPG from a Logitech C930e. We have normality.

So, a workaround is readily available…and a longer term solution is in the works. Hopefully Microsoft has learned an important lesson along the way. This is the sort of thing that should have been uncovered by their Insider Program.

  • Good Job Mr. Graves. I run deferred updates, so hopefully be December they have this nailed.

  • Tabbi

    These microsoft tsunamis may be easy for you talented techies but what about poor little me and friends?? I know my way around my computer for things related to my research but when something blows up I’m lost. I just spent a small fortune on a new microscope, USB microscope camera and a new laptop featuring windows 10. I wish I had known about the upcoming anniversary update. I will have to call Geek Squad now and have them apply your prescribed work around. Thank you very much for posting that by the way. This way I can just hand my computer dude the prescription so it will probably save me a few bucks. I am effectively ground to a halt until it is fixed. It frosts me to no end when I shell out the large for decent equipment so I don’t have to contend with down time. I just expect it to work after the investment. Grrrrrrrrrrr!

    • mjgraves

      Tabbi,

      As a married man, I’ve often been told that I’m not sufficiently empathetic. So what I’m about to offer may seem a little rough.

      A computer connected microscope seems like quite an instrument. If it’s important to your work there’s probably some real value in getting to know something more about the computer itself. Make the effort to get to know the tool and the work will be easier in the end.

      The registry hack to fix the matter takes literally 2 minutes to perform. You will spend more resource getting to/from the Geek Squad to have it done. I’d suggest that you do it yourself. There are lots of references to how it should be done available online.

      That said, you should protect yourself by making a backup image of the computer before you attempt such a change. You need routine backups anyway to protect from things like hard drive failure. All you need to do this is a portable hard drive and a copy of a backup tool. Lately I’ve been using Macrium Reflect, which is free and very easy to use.

      I make a backup image every time I’m about to make a big change to the system. Takes 20 minutes. Allows me to go back should the need arise.

      This is variation of my tools, craft, art mantra. Craft is about developing expertise with a set of tools. There can be no art without first learning the craft, and making the tools an extension of one’s self. Now, a race car driver doesn’t need to know how to make a car…but they do need to know a lot about how it works, so they can at least advise the crew about what they experience on the track.

    • mjgraves

      How-To-Geek recently posted an very good article on how to make the registry change, including a backup process.

      http://www.howtogeek.com/267946/how-to-stop-your-webcam-from-freezing-and-crashing-on-windows-10/

  • Irvin Cee

    Thank you very much Michael for that info.
    I’m using Wirecast to stream my radio/dj shows and been struggling with fps issues and needed to lower all my cams (2xC920 1x C910) to a lower resolution since the Anniversary update.
    2 weeks ago I had a gig where I used my gear and suddenly I started having the issue as in the video on 2 cams.
    Back home this issue stopped on one but not the second one. Apparently this frame server also generate connectivityissues with the active USB2 extenders i use (higher bandwith)?!
    I’ll try if this registry settings will solve this connectivity issue too, but my guess is yes, I ‘ve been using this setup already a long time.