Over the past month, millions of people have been sent home to work, many scrambling to upgrade or augment their personal computer equipment. Webcams, which are essential to Zoom and other online collaboration tools, have been snapped up as fast as face masks.
No kidding. According to the NPD Group’s Weekly Retail Tracking Service, retailers saw a 226% increase in sales of USB cameras in the five weeks ending April 4, 2020. With inventories picked clean, third-party retailers, grifters really, are pouncing on the opportunity with ridiculous pricing in some cases, as first reported by The Verge
Right now, for example, on Amazon you can buy a Logitech HD webcam C270 desktop--used, mind you--for $99.00. The camera’s normal retail price is $24.99.
Companies like Logitech are said to be amping up their production, but apparently not quickly enough. To wit, a colleague of my husband’s, who teaches at MIT, recently walked into a local MicroCenter here in Cambridge, MA, looking to buy a webcam.
Disappointed to find the shelves for webcams stripped bare, he was heading to the checkout line when he saw a bin of Wyze Cam v2 home security cameras for sale, with a microSD card bundled with each camera. Designed for home security applications, this compact camera comes with features like motion tracking, two-way audio, free cloud storage, and a microSD Card slot for storing video locally.
Interest piqued, he took a closer look and realized that included with the bundle were instructions for converting the Cam v2 into a webcam through a firmware update with an SD card. There are instructions for downloading the firmware on the Wyze website.
Aware of the growing shortage of webcams, engineers at Wyze figured out a simple firmware update to convert the Cam v2 into a fully-functional webcam.
On its website support page, Wyze states that “This solution is only for folks who need a need webcam but can’t buy one and it should be used ‘as is’.” It has no plans to provide improvements or bug fixes.
The firmware update been tested and the camera works on Mac OS 10.13, Windows 7 and 10, but Wyze says it may not be compatible with all computer operating systems. It also works with Zoom, GoToMeeting, Blue Jeans, Google Hangouts, Skype and Cisco.
The only performance issued noted is that the mic audio may be low.
At $19.99, it’s an affordable option if you need a webcam. And if at some point you're heading back to work and no longer have a use for a webcam, you can convert the Wyze Cam back into its intended purpose.