Review: Amcrest AWC201-B HD Webcam

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge by Amcrest specifically for review. While the product was provided to me by the manufacturer for the purpose of review, I am not sponsored by Amcrest and my review is purely objective. I currently do not own any other Amcrest products.

Griff

Introduction

In 2020, who hasn’t had a Zoom meeting, Teams meeting, Facebook messenger video call, or some other form of video telecommunication? Relatively few people as compared to previous years. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on families and organizations alike, video calls have become commonplace and a staple of daily life. As this change came about, many people found that they needed a webcam. Or if they already had one, that they wanted a better one. Within just a couple short months, the world’s supply of webcams got scarce. As someone who works in IT for a living and regularly orders hardware like webcams, it really was a bit of a problem. Several months into the shortage, Amcrest brought their AWC201-B HD webcam offering to the market. A little over a week ago, I received my unit from their product testing program and began to use it. In this review, I’ll explore the benefits and pitfalls of this web camera and hopefully provide you with the information you need to make a decision about purchasing the device or exploring Amcrest’s offerings.

Specifications

Technical Specifications for the AWC201-B from Amcrest’s website.

The AWC201-B (for lack of a better name) can provide HD resolution video at 30 frames per second. While the spec sheet on their website doesn’t seem to mention it, the AWC201-B is a 2 megapixel web camera, according to Amazon.com. It has a six (6) foot long USB 2.0 cable which is not detachable, and has the expected tripod mount and built-in microphone. I was pleased to see when looking at the box that the device includes a privacy cover that can be flipped open or closed. Cable length is fairly standard. While pretty much universally compatible, there doesn’t appear to be anything particularly attention-catching about the device apart from a pleasing design that sits nicely atop a monitor. But, let’s not fret about that. I’ll be filling out the rest of this review throughout the week.

Audio performance

Alright, it’s time to get rolling on this review. First up let’s have a listen to the audio quality of the built-in microphone.

First, I have a recording of a pre-determined script, using my Moano AU-PM421 studio microphone. This is obviously significantly better quality than we can expect from a webcam–especially at Amcrest’s price point–but it serves as a reference point to what I actually sound like, as realistically as possible.
Next up, here is the recording of the same pre-determined script, using the built-in microphone on the Amcrest AWC201-B HD webcam. We notice a significant difference here, which is okay in and of itself, as the quality of microphone is expected to vary widely when comparing a standalone, dedicated professional microphone against the built-in microphone of a budget web camera.
Lastly, I have a recording of the same pre-determined script, using the built-in microphone of my usual webcam in my home office–the Vitade 960A HD webcam. You’ll notice that the audio quality here is much closer to the type of audio you get from the Amcrest AWC201-B, but that it is still much clearer with significantly less background noise/hiss.

Still image performance

Below is a quick look at still image performance using my daily driver, the Vitade 960A, as a reference point for comparison to the Amcrest AWC201-B.

First, here is a reference image from the Vitade 960A HD webcam that I grabbed during a video call. This is my daily driver for home office use.
Second, here is the still image from the Amcrest AWC201-B HD webcam–from the same video call as the first image.

Notice the color temperature here. Neither image is white-balance corrected, so the coloring/hue/tint/saturation/white balance are directly native from the camera. Also note that the colors in the first image from the Vitade are actually accurate. The color interpretation here with the AWC201-B is interesting; it is much cooler and more analytical. While less accurate, in some ways it sort of makes the image a bit easier to view. I also noticed that despite both cameras being 1920×1080 in resolution, the Amcrest did not provide nearly as crisp and clean an image as the 960A. It is, by all means, still a usable image and things are easy to discern. I would consider the still image from Amcrest’s new offering to fall in the “acceptable” range.

Taking a look at side-by-side comparison of the image quality, we see that the Vitade 960A 1080p webcam (left) provides much better details when zoomed into 75 than the Amcrest AWC201-B (right).

Note the blurry skin from the Amcrest in the cheekbone region, and how hair appears to be a solid blotch of color, rather than having the texture of hair. With the Vitade, texture of hair is discernible.

Also note that in all the above images, XSplit VCam software is in use to change the background (the integration/interfacing with this software is discussed later in the review).

“I reject your background, and substitute my own.”

Adam Savage, probably.

Video performance

Video Test from Amcrest AWC201-B HD Webcam. [Update: I did later discover that the microphone error I was getting is a Windows error due to a Windows setting. That said, this is the only camera that I have this issue with, so that is still odd to me.]
Video Reference Test from Vitade 960A HD Webcam.

Interfacing with software

A key feature of a webcam, for me, is the ability to adjust the image. While there was no included software, or software available to download from Amcrest’s website, I did find that the generic controls of other applications such as Xplit VCam were able to adjust the image.

Screenshot of the video processing adjustments available in XSplit VCam that worked on the Amcrest AWC201-B.

While the image processing controls worked, the camera controls themselves were not compatible:

Screenshot of the camera adjustments available in XSplit VCam that didn’t work on the Amcrest AWC201-B.

But what about other software? Is the AWC201-B easily used “plug-and-play” with common applications such as Microsoft Teams and Discord?

While other parts of the experience with this webcam have been shaky, I was pleased to find that the camera really is “plug-and-play” for the most part. Microsoft Teams is a daily application for me, working in IT and with the rest of my teammates located some 300 miles away. In the video footage earlier, I talked about the issues connecting the webcam to my laptop to record the test video. While the built-in Windows 10 camera app gave me trouble, I didn’t have any issues setting the webcam as my device in Teams and making a call. In fact, the call quality was quite good despite the performance shortcomings in basic tests earlier. As far as Discord went, I also had an easy experience. After plugging in the webcam, Discord detected it and asked if I would like to switch to it. After clicking Switch and turning on my video in a channel, the video delivery was pretty smooth and clear albeit low-detail (likely due to the webcam only being 2 megapixels). Audio performance–again–was clear and significantly better than in the audio-only tests.

I also used the webcam to stream/import video feed into OBS Studio as well (which I use to record tutorials) and had no issues there either.

Build quality

Let’s talk build quality. While I may have found some of the technical features to be lacking in the camera, the same can’t be said for the actual build quality. The shape, design, and weight of the webcam is pleasing. Heavy enough to not feel cheaply made, but light enough to be convenient and non-intensive to use or transport. I do like the wide, slim design. In fact, I prefer this shape and design to my Logitech C920 that I use at work (quite bulky) and my Vitade 960A that I use at home (perfectly round). The hinge for adjusting the angle of the webcam moves easily, but also has enough stopping resistance to stay put once you adjust it. Rubber grips on the adjustable arm used for resting atop a computer monitor keep it relatively in-place.

As I mentioned in the Introduction, this webcam includes a privacy cover that can be flipped open or shut. The odd thing about it, is that it comes uninstalled. Upon unboxing, I had to peel the cover off the back and adhere it to the device. It took two or three tries to get it to sit on there level and not look “janky.”

My only major complaint regarding build quality is the cheap USB-A male connector. As mentioned above in the video tests, I couldn’t even plug the webcam into my laptop because if even the most microscopic movement of the connector occurred, the device disconnected completely. This is an issue I have not experienced with any USB peripheral of mine otherwise.

Price

$39.99 USD

Opinions will vary regarding price. I personally thing $30-40 is the “budget” end of webcams. So for me, $39.99 USD for the quality that this provides is about right. I might personally think it’s worth more in the $29.99-34.99 range, however, given it is only 2 megapixels and the USB connector is cheap. I do feel the price is just slightly too high given the fact that it is only a 2 megapixel camera, whereas Logitech’s C310 which is probably the best competitor in the price range, is a 5 megapixel camera with incredibly better performance all around, despite only being 720p instead of 1080p.

Conclusion

So who is this webcam for? I’m not entirely sure who Amcrest’s intended target customer is, but I could see this being a good option for someone who;

  • does not yet/currently have a webcam and needs one for work,
  • needs to order webcams at scale/bulk that are usable for basic video conferencing applications, but won’t break the bank,
  • needs a webcam but does not plan to stream on any platform,
  • plans to use the webcam only for one or two major/reputable video-calling platforms and doesn’t plan on doing any crazy integrations or production.

Pros

  • 1080p HD resolution
  • Even exposure weighting
  • Pleasing design
  • Includes privacy cover
  • Only $39.99

Cons

  • Poor color replication
  • High distortion
  • Cheap USB connector
  • Only 2 megapixels
  • Microphone is usable, but not great

As someone who spends a large portion of his day on video calls or streaming video to others, I can’t say I would purchase this for my personal use, but that’s not because it isn’t a worthy consideration. I simply don’t buy budget gear. This is a product that is worth considering for people who need a budget webcam and don’t necessarily care about crystal-clear audio and video, but need it to function well enough. Reviewing it for what it really is–a budget webcam–I’d give it 3.5/5 stars. It’s affordable, it mostly “just works” and is clear enough for general use.

What webcam are you using, and what do you like about it? Do you have an Amcrest webcam? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


Additional reading

Amcrest AWC201-B Product Information

Amcrest AWC201-B on Amazon

Joining a Windows 10 Device to the Domain (Updated for Windows 10 Update 20H2)

Introduction

Up until Windows 10 Update 20H2, many people joined workstations and servers to their domain environment using methods such as accessing the Run Prompt and entering “control system” to access the System Information portion of Control Panel, then clicking the option to modify the name of the device (the resulting window gave you the option to join a domain). Or by visiting the Control Panel and navigating to: System and Security > System > Computer name,domain, and workgroup settings > Change Settings.

With the introduction of Update 20H2, Microsoft has altered this option. In Step 2 shown in the above screenshot, Windows administrators would usually expect the System Properties window to appear, where one could click “Change…” to change either the name of the computer or the domain/workgroup to which the workstation was joined. With Update 20H2, Step 2 of the above screenshot now opens to the Windows 10 Settings App, which many administrators have been reluctant to accept, as the Windows Properties window had previously remained largely unchanged since Windows 95.

While this isn’t a new method of joining a machine to the domain, it was often ignored since many administrators preferred the traditional method discussed in the first paragraph of this post, or primarily administer their domain via PowerShell. This brief article will walk through some options for joining a traditional local Active Directory domain, especially if you really just have to have that System Properties window.

All the methods outlined below assume the device is already connected to the domain’s network and has the appropriate network configuration.

Joining the Domain – Run Prompt

Strike together the Windows + R combination on the keyboard, or right-click the Start Menu icon and select “Run” to open the Run Prompt.

Type: sysdm.cpl and strike the Enter/Return key on the keyboard or click OK.

In the resulting System Properties window, click Change…

In the resulting Computer Name/Domain Changes window, select the radio button called “Domain:” and enter the domain you wish to join (example: yourdomain.com). When done, click OK.

You may be prompted for credentials; in order to join the domain, you’ll need the credentials of a domain user account which has permissions to join devices to the domain. A domain administrator account is typically used for this function.

After entering the requisite credentials, the device will prompt you to reboot. After rebooting, the device will have been joined to the domain.

Joining the Domain – PowerShell

We can also join a machine to a local domain via a Windows PowerShell command. If you’re like me and prefer to do most of your Windows administrator via the command line, this option is for you.

Launch PowerShell (running as administrator) and type the below command:

Add-Computer -DomainName "yourdomain.com" -Restart

You may be prompted for credentials; in order to join the domain, you’ll need the credentials of a domain user account which has permissions to join devices to the domain. A domain administrator account is typically used for this function.

After entering the requisite credentials, the device will reboot. After rebooting, the device will have been joined to the domain. Easy-peasy, and works as quickly as your can type assuming no network issues.

Joining the Domain – Win10 Settings App

Last–and least–is the Windows 10 Settings App. I just…do we have to? We should at least talk about it. Alright.

On the keyboard, press together the Windows+i combination to open the Windows 10 Settings app. Alternatively, you can right-click the Start Menu icon and select Settings.

In the resulting Settings window, click into the Accounts module.

In the resulting page, use the navigation pane at the left of the window to select the “Access work or school” option. Then, click Connect.

Once you’ve clicked Connect, you’ll have a Microsoft Account window appear. Near the bottom of the window, click the “Join this device to a local Active Directory domain” option. Of course, if you’re using Azure Active Directory (AAD), then you can of course use that option.

In the resulting Join a Domain window, input the domain you wish to join, then click Next.

Once you click Next, you’ll be prompted for the requisite domain administrator credentials, after which the computer will prompt you to reboot. Once reboot is complete, the device will then be joined to the domain.

Conclusion

While Windows 10 Update 20H2 removed what some people thought of as the most traditional way of joining a machine to the domain (via the control panel and system information window), there are still a host of other options available. My personal preference for a one-off quick-join remains the sysdm.cpl method via the Run Prompt for its ease of use, the fact that it has remained the same throughout windows versions even through the 20H2 update, and the face that it maintains the graphical user interface with which many folks are already familiar.

The Windows 10 Settings app method isn’t necessarily horrible, but it’s more navigation and more clicks to accomplish the same thing, hence why I feel so many Windows administrators dislike the approach. To Microsoft’s credit, it does make some sense given their Azure Active Directory offering and their push to get customers to the cloud. In previous Windows 10 update releases, I feel the software giant is pushing its customers more and more toward Azure and the cloud with various included products like synced Edge bookmarks, OneDrive, OneNote, etc. What do you think of the smaller administrative changes that Microsoft is making to Windows 10? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


Additional Reading

Join a Computer to a Domain | Microsoft Docs

PowerShell to join the computer to domain – Just Do Cloud

Installing Windows via bootable USB drive for Dell Precision 5820 Towers w/ FlexBay NVMe SSDs installed

Dell Precision 5820 towers require manual loading of the storage drivers during the Windows installation process. This brief article provides step-by-step walkthrough of how to accomplish this.

Prerequisites

In order to image a Dell Precision 5820 Tower that has a FlexBay NVMe solid-state drive installed, you’ll need the following:

  • The computer tower
  • Windows 10 ISO of your choice
  • Rufus bootable-USB creation software
  • USB flash drive with a minimum of 8GB of storage
  • The Intel Rapid Store Technology Enterprise driver for the virtual RAID and AHCI controllers

The process of obtaining the drivers and flashing the USB are covered in this article. If you already have your bootable USB Windows installer ready, skip to the Copying the driver section.

Obtaining the necessary drivers

To obtain the necessary drivers, look up the Service Tag of the workstation in question. See the Additional Resources section for links to the lookup website, driver download, and more.

Once you’ve downloaded the driver’s installer, run the executable. When the splash page pops up, select the “Extract” option instead of the Install option. Extract the driver files to a location of your choice.

Creating bootable USB Windows installer

Insert your chosen USB flash drive to your system. Download and run Rufus.

Select your device and ISO file.

Partition scheme = GPT

Target system = BIOS or UEFI

Give the drive a name and click Start. When finished, close Rufus but do not remove the drive from your system.

For this example, I already had a bootable USB installer for Windows 10 Update 20H2 prepared.

Copying the driver

In your newly created bootable USB flash drive, create a directory called “drivers” and another directory inside it called the workstation brand and model. The previous sentence is optional, but extremely helpful when organizing drivers for multiple systems on a single installer drive. Navigate to the directory to which you extracted the drivers. Cut or Copy these, and Paste them into the directory you just created on the bootable USB flash drive. In my example, the file system on the flash drive looks like this:

When done, remove the USB flash drive from your system.

Installing Windows

Insert the bootable USB flash drive in the Dell Precision 5820 or 7920 workstation in question. Power on the device.

At the Dell boot splash page, rapidly tap the F12 key on the keyboard until you see “Preparing one-time boot menu” at the top-right corner of the display.

When the one-time boot menu appears, use the arrow keys on the keyboard to scroll down to the “BIOS configuration” option, then strike the enter/return key on the keyboard to enter the BIOS configuration menu.

The following settings must be set/verified;

  • Secure Boot = Disabled
  • Boot Sequence > Boot Option = UEFI
  • Advanced Boot Options > Legacy Option ROMs = Enabled

Save all changes and reboot the system. Again, at the Dell boot splash page, rapidly tap the F12 key on the keyboard until you see “Preparing one-time boot menu” at the top-right corner of the display.

When the one-time boot menu appears, use the arrow keys on the keyboard to scroll down to your bootable USB flash drive, then strike the enter/return key on the keyboard to boot from your drive.

The Windows installer should now load. Continue through the Installation menu as you normally would until you reach the “Where do you want to install Windows?” screen.

At this screen, click “Load driver” and navigate to the directory on your bootable USB flash drive. Select the directory of the appropriate AHCI/SATA driver, then load the driver. The installer will do some scans, then return you to the screen above. If no drive appears at this point, that is normal.

Again, click “Load driver” and repeat the previous step, but this time selecting the appropriate RAID driver from the directory on your bootable USB flash drive. Load the driver. Once both drivers are loaded, you should now see the drive(s) in question available.

Proceed with the Windows installation as normal.


Additional Resources

Dell Precision 5820/7920: Imaging Steps for NVMe Drives in the Flex Bay

Dell Service Tag Lookup

Intel Rapid Store Technology Enterprise F6 Driver v5.3.1.1019_A03 – Download

Rufus – Download

Keeping your software up-to-date the easy way

Get rid of annoying “update available” notification and pop-ups by having your computer take care of application updates automatically.

Introduction

Don’t you love those pop-ups you get in the corner of your desktop telling you there’s an update for a program installed on your computer? Or how about when you open a program and it tells you there’s an update? You just want to use your software, so if you’re like me, you’ve probably clicked “ignore” or closed the update to just get to what you were doing. But there is a better way! Nobody wants to take the time to keep all of their software up-to-date. In this brief blog post, I take a look at how you can make this happen “auto-magically,” at least for many common programs.

Installing Chocolatey package manager

The first thing we will need to do is install the Chocolatey package manager. This is going to let us have access to one central source for the programs and their updates.

To install Chocolatey, open Windows PowerShell by going to the Start Menu and typing “powershell” (quotes ommitted). Right-click the top result, and click “Run as Administrator.” This will require you to have administrative rights. If you do not have administrative rights, this process will not be possible.

In the Windows PowerShell window that appears, paste the following command:

Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process -Force; [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol = [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol -bor 3072; iex ((New-Object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString('https://chocolatey.org/install.ps1'))

Once that command has completed, close Windows PowerShell and launch it again with administrative rights like we just did.

Installing packages

Now we need to install the packages that we want to keep up-to-date. To find out if a program you have has a package available, use the below example in PowerShell:

choco search programname

where programname is the name of the program you want. Some examples might be:

  • adobereader
  • adobe-connect
  • googlechrome
  • microsoft-edge
  • discord
  • putty
  • icue
  • bitwarden
  • lastpass
  • obs-studio
  • conemu
  • forticlientvpn
  • openvpn
  • java
  • jre
  • logitech-options
  • reflect-free
  • and many, many more.

To actually install any or a combination of these, use the following command:

cinst programname -Y

where programname is the package name. You can list multiple package names in succession to install multiple programs at once:

cinst programname1 programname2 programname3 -Y

Chocolatey will download the packages and install them.

Writing the update script

With the packages installed, now we need to create a super simple script that will update those packages.

Open Notepad by going to the Start Menu and typing “notepad” (quotations omitted) and running the top result.

In the blank document that opens, type the following:

choco upgrade all -Y

If you continually run into errors with certain packages updating and don’t mind the insecurity of it, you can also use:

choco upgrade all -Y --ignore-checksums

though I don’t recommend it.

Now save this by going to File > Save As… In the Save As window, change the drop-down menu for the file type. It will be defaulted to .txt and we want to change it to All Files. Type a name for the file ending with .ps1. Example:

chocolatey-updater.ps1

Save it to a location where it won’t be touched and will always be available. I have mine saved to a folder I created at C:\ScheduledTasks but you can put yours wherever you want.

Scheduling automatic updates

Finally, now that we have installed packages and created a script to update them, we will want to schedule the update process to be completely automatic. Because being hands-off is the whole point!

Open the Task Scheduler by clicking the Start Menu and typing “task scheduler” then running the top result.

In the resulting Task Scheduler window, open the Action menu, then click Create Task.

Give your scheduled task a name and a description, then select “Run whether user is logged in or not” and check “Run with highest privileges.” Finally, Configure for: Windows 10.

Move to the Triggers tab.

Add a new trigger to begin the task on a schedule. Input your desired start date, reoccurence period, and ensure “Enabled” is checked, then click OK.

Move to the Actions tab.

Make the action “Start a program” and in the Program/script field, paste the path to PowerShell:

%SystemRoot%\system32\WindowsPowerShell\v1.0\powershell.exe

In the Add arguments field, add the following:

-file scriptpath

where scriptpath is the path to where you saved your script earlier. My example looked like this:

-file C:\ScheduledTasks\chocolatey-updates.ps1

When done, click OK on all remaining Task Scheduler windows and the task will be scheduled. Now, as long as your computer is on, you leave the task scheduled, and the script is available where you saved it, your computer should automatically update your specified programs without you having to do anything at all.

I have been keeping my computers up to date like this for several years (set to automatically update everything weekly) and it saves me tons of time, and I rarely get notifications about new versions or annoying popups anymore.

Bringing it all together

In this process, we installed Chocolately package manager, figured out what programs we wanted to keep up to date that were available through Chocolatey, installed those programs, wrote the update script/command, and scheduled PowerShell to run that command at a regular interval.

How did this go for you? Got any other neat tips and tricks for keeping your system running in great shape? I’d love for you to share them in the comments.

Password managers and why you should be using one

Let me ask you some questions:

  • Do you have that one account that you only have to log into once in a blue moon, and you pretty much always have to reset the password?
  • Do any of your accounts use the same password?
  • Do you have any of your passwords written down somewhere or typed out in a Word document or Excel spreadsheet or some other similar list?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, then using a password manager may benefit you.

What is a password manager?

A password manager is an program that digitally and securely stores your login information for various accounts. Using just a single “master password,” you can access the login information for any and all of your stored accounts witout having to know every account’s information.

Why use a password manager?

Security

The most important benefit of a password manager is security. If you have your passwords written down somewhere, then it is more likely someone may accidentally (or intentionally) find out how to access your accounts; additionally, if they’re written down, they can be lost or destroyed. If you have more than one account using the same password, if that password is discovered or stolen, the theif could gain access to many of your accounts. Using a password manager allows you to securely store your passwords, have convenient access to them, and also lets you generate more complex and secure passwords without the need to memorize them.

Simplicity

Security is important. But the extra-nice thing about a password maanger is the simplicity. Instead of having to remember of the logon information for many accounts, you can simply remember a single “master password.” Some password managers even support web browser add-ons/extensions that will auto-fill your login information into a webpage after you enter your master password.

My recommended solution

Bitwarden is a fantastic and free option for a password manager. I have been using Bitwarden for several years and love it. The solution is open-source, free, and supported on the many platforms and browsers listed below.

Operating systems: Windows | macOS | Linux | Android | iOS

Browsers: Edge | Chrome | Opera | Firefox | Tor | Vivaldi | Brave | Safari

Additionally, Bitwarden features web-based access via the web portal and also has powerful command-line tools (CLI) to create and execute scripts against your Bitwarden Vault.

Web portal access to your Bitwarden Vault

With Bitwarden, securing your online accounts is as simple as creating a free account, setting your master password, and entering the information you’d like to store. If you’re like me and had all your login info in an Excel spreadsheet, then you’re in luck, because Bitwarden supports the import of .CSV files to making your setup process breeze by quickly.

Other neat stuff Bitwarden supports includes: locally hosting it on your own server instead of cloud hosted, it supports multi-factor authentication and is compatible with the Yubico YubiKey (a review on that to come), a password generator, configuration for auto-fill on websites, and the ability to store more than passwords securely–including secure notes, credit card information, and identity information. And so much more.

Available on every major platform and cloud-accessible, Bitwarden is a fast, convenient, and free solution to enhance your online security and make your life easier.

Other Options

Bitwarden is fantastic, but it won’t be for everyone. That’s why competition exists! Here are some additional options for you to check out:

Bringing it all together

Regardless of which solution you choose, a password manager is crucial to increasing your online security–unless you can just memorize every single password you have. Combining a password manager with some form of multi-factor authentication provides a high degree of security while also making life more convenient by requiring you to only remembe a single master password. If you haven’t tried a password manager, don’t delay! Try one today.

Have you used a password manager before? If so, what was it and what were your thoughts? Have you had other issues or complaints about memorizing passwords? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.