Why don’t most LCD monitors come with built-in cameras?

The kitchen laptop computer had an unfortunate encounter with a full mug of tea. As it cost $499 about 1.5 years ago, it can probably be regarded as a write-off. Rather than providing retraining and a 709 ride for household members, I was thinking it might be nice to redesign the installation to expose only a monitor and keyboard, with a brick underneath a desktop. One of the uses of this laptop was Skype video chat. So I went shopping for monitors at hp.com and dell.com and found that none of the nicer monitors, e.g., 27″, include webcams. I would think that nearly everyone who has a home PC would want to the option of using it for videoconferencing. I would think that nearly everyone who buys a nicer monitor would want to avoid clipping an afterthought webcam onto the top of the monitor. So how come it is nearly impossible to buy a monitor with built-in webcam, microphone, and maybe even speakers? A competitive market is not supposed to result in 20 different vendors all selling identical products, is it?

In the laptop world, it is almost impossible to buy a machine without a webcam. Similarly in the all-in-one PC world, both Macintosh and Windows; they all have webcams to support videoconferencing.

My one ┬átheory: the standard monitor interface is the DVI cable, which cannot support both the pixels coming up and the USB traffic going back. I don’t think this problem is insurmountable (and I’m not even sure that I’m right about what the extra pins in DVI can do), however, as it is possible to buy a bundled DVI and USB cable. Also, a lot of monitors, including the four-year-old Dell 30″ monitor I’m using right now, have USB ports.

[Update: After drying out for 8 hours, the Toshiba laptop booted up Windows Vista, ripped a CD from its optical drive, pulled Web pages from the Internet with Google Chrome, etc. The keyboard is kind of mushy, but I'm hoping it will revive. If not, I guess I can raise the laptop up on a phone book (more ergonomic anyway) and attach a USB keyboard. I'm somewhat amazed that a $499 computer can handle a full mug of near-boiling tea; hardware engineers are a lot smarter than software engineers!]

13 Comments

  1. Jan

    September 20, 2010 @ 10:15 am

    1

    I’ve been looking for the exact same thing and was wondering that too. Two guesses:
    - Some companies forbid cameras inside the premisses and they are afraid to lose that market
    - Import taxes for cameras and monitors differ in the EU and they probably pay a higher tax on the combined product.

    Apple, not usually the one with most bells and whistles on their products, just updated their entire monitor line to include cameras and speakers. They use the newer “display port” standard though, so you would need an extra converter if you have DVI. Let’s hope this prods the other manufactures into action.

  2. rjh

    September 20, 2010 @ 10:45 am

    2

    More possible reasons:

    1) The laptop camera can be permanently pointed at the likely location of the user. The field of view for a laptop is limited, and people adjust the screen angle for best viewing easily. For a desktop LCD the field of view is much wider and the camera is much more likely to need adjusting. The cheap separate web cam is easy to adjust.

    2) Privacy concerns. Laptops tend to be closed when not in use. The desktop LCD would be always on surveying the room. (This is probably a much weaker reason than the first, since people don’t generally think of privacy issues until after they’ve had a problem.)

    3) Cost. When the percentage cost difference becomes noticeable to buyers, they won’t pay extra for the camera. This is also becoming much less of an issue as web-cam quality camera costs plummet.

    None of these are overwhelming reasons.

  3. Maik

    September 20, 2010 @ 11:12 am

    3

    Are you insisting on those two vendors? Because builtin webcam seems to be mostly an ASUS thing with standalone TFTs at this time. In fact, in the >= 26″ range, all I can find are two ASUS and one Apple.

  4. philg

    September 20, 2010 @ 11:13 am

    4

    Jan, rjh: I can accept your reasons for why many or most LCD monitors would be devoid of webcams, but they don’t seem big enough to explain that nearly 100 percent of the larger LCD screens would lack these features. I did just check the Apple site and they have a $1000 27″ monitor with mic and speakers. Maybe this explains Apple’s continued existence. In exchange for suffering with the lack of innovation inherent in an operating system monopoly (Windows), the PC market was supposed to give us a wide variety of hardware. We got the promised suffering (I can’t figure out what is better about Windows 7 compared to XP, for example) but the hardware variety seems to be “What brand name do you want stamped on your indistinguishable from everyone else’s hardware?” (I still find it odd that it isn’t possible to pay $200 extra and get a PC case finished in wood so that you don’t have an ugly metal and plastic item clashing with the rest of your home decor)

  5. Ryan

    September 20, 2010 @ 11:16 am

    5

    Great question, and furthermore, why hasn’t anyone created a kitchen PC, netbook or tablet yet? Or at least a wall mountable, splash resistant, flout dust resistant touchscreen.

  6. philg

    September 20, 2010 @ 11:24 am

    6

    Maik: Thanks for the reference. I see at Amazon ASUS has a $227 monitor that is 24″ in size and that supposedly they’ve been selling since 2004 (six years?!?). http://event.asus.com/LCD/mk241h/ doesn’t show anything larger than 24″ though. Dell has a 23″ monitor with webcam, but no speakers: http://accessories.us.dell.com/sna/products/Displays/productdetail.aspx?c=us&l=en&s=dhs&cs=19&sku=320-7641

  7. Maik

    September 20, 2010 @ 11:45 am

    7

    I used a German product search engine that has a fairly comprehensive “search by product feature” function. I checked TFT, widescreen, webcam, >= 26″ and came up with this: http://www.heise.de/preisvergleich/?cat=monlcd19wide&xf=103_Webcam~99_26
    The ASUS models mentioned are the VK266H (1920×1200, 26″) and the VK278Q (1920×1080, 27″). I don’t know about US availability.

  8. Laytonf

    September 20, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

    8

    The Dell monitor has a separate speaker bar that is sold separately and attaches below. A quick search says that the sound bar part number is AX510PA.

  9. Owen Byrne

    September 20, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

    9

    The Apple monitor may seem expensive, but you’d be hard pressed to find another monitor with comparable specs (LED, 2560×1440 resolution) cheaper. Dell sells a 27″ with the same resolution, but not LED for the same price: http://accessories.us.dell.com/sna/products/Displays/productdetail.aspx?c=us&l=en&s=dhs&cs=19&sku=224-8284

  10. Dan Lyke

    September 20, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

    10

    Silliest thing I’ve found yet: My Gateway monitor has speakers, it plays an annoying jingle when I turn it on, but I’ve yet to figure out how to route the output from the PC that drives it to them. So I have an additional speaker set on my desk.

    Some days I just wanna thrash the marketing guys who make decisions like this.

  11. Mark Lutton

    September 20, 2010 @ 7:59 pm

    11

    Why are so few LCD monitors touchscreens? Operating systems handle touchscreens now. Phones have touchscreens. You’ll still use your mouse, but there are so many things you can do faster by touching the screen.

  12. Fazal Majid

    September 21, 2010 @ 4:22 am

    12

    I have the 27″ iMac and can attest the 27″ LED S-IPS screen in the 27″ Apple display is amazingly good. The NEC MultiSync PA271W is better, but costs more.

    One problem with webcams on large monitors is parallax. When you are looking at the Skype window for the person on the other end, you are not looking into the camera, and thus break eye contact. Apple filed for a patent a few years back for a display with camera pixels interspersed with display pixels, and thus the entire screen is a sensor and no more parallax. There are also companies like SeeEye2Eye that make a teleprompter-style accessory to avoid this pitfall.

  13. GaryD

    September 23, 2010 @ 8:51 am

    13

    Camera resolution is increasing faster than monitor resolution. So a built-in camera in a high-end monitor would become obsolete long before the monitor itself does.

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