Technology

Microsoft's Latest Webcam Doesn't Pan Out


0726_lifecam
Editor's Rating: star rating

The LifeCam NX-6000 delivers at lower resolutions, but overall, its problems call for a lower price

When it comes to digital cameras, you'd be excused for presuming that the higher the resolution, the better the image quality. But, in fact, resolution is only one facet of image quality. This reality becomes especially obvious with Microsoft's (MSFT) LifeCam NX-6000, a Webcam featuring unusually high resolution capabilities: up to 2 megapixels for video, and up to 8 megapixels for still photos.

To take advantage of those resolutions, you'll need a computer with USB 2.0 connection capabilities. But even with the right computer hardware, the camera's high-resolution video stutters about, barely resembling a "moving" image and rarely syncing with the audio.

I tested the LifeCam on a Dell Latitude D610 Notebook with two USB 2.0 ports, but there were significant jumps in the footage when capturing video at 1.3 megapixels or higher. I'm not talking about a small blur during a fast hand wave either. Sometimes, when playing back the video, I heard words emerge from my mouth several beats before my mouth actually opened.

For a camera that runs $75 to $90, considerably more than most Webcams, the high-resolution capability would appear to be a major selling point. So it was a bit of a bummer that the higher resolutions didn't produce smoother video, especially since there are 1.3-megapixel Webcams on store shelves priced much lower (see BusinessWeek.com, 6/15/07, "A Webcam for Your Inner Anchorman").

Accentuate the Positive

At lower resolutions, the NX-6000 performed very well. I didn't notice any skips in the video or disconnects with the audio. The images were clear, and it was easy to adjust various picture characteristics, including brightness, color saturation, sharpness, and hue. For example, it was simple to counteract the harsh fluorescent lights in my office, and the shadows they created, by increasing the picture brightness and tweaking the color saturation.

The 3X digital zoom is another nice feature that lets you vary the shots from full background to close-up. The zoom is easily controlled from the camera dashboard on the computer, which also lets you pan the shot right or left by clicking arrows in either direction.

This LifeCam also gets high marks for design. The clip fits snuggly atop your laptop screen whether it's thick or thin. I had no problem clipping it onto a MacBook, for instance. The camera rotates up to 71 degrees to capture both standing shots and close-ups of, say, a user's hands on the keyboard. And looks-wise, the camera's compact rectangular shape is attractive.

The NX-6000's integration with Microsoft's services is a major plus. There's a button on the top of the camera that automatically opens Microsoft's Windows Live video chat software. Videos can be automatically saved to the application for upload to a video blog. There are also built-in controls that let users post a video to a Windows Live blog with the click of a button.

Sibling Rivalry

The host of image effects available through the LifeCam dashboard are less impressive. Many are cutesy overlaid animations such as plants growing or a spaceship floating around at the top of the screen. They're fun for a minute, but not nearly as useful or interesting as the ability to drop a blue screen in the background, change the color scheme, or otherwise morph the image.

Given how pleased I was with another Microsoft LifeCam that I recently reviewed, the VX-6000, I was pretty surprised by the NX-6000's assorted shortcomings. Sure, the NX-6000 offers much the same as its lower-end sibling in terms of good image control and shot variety (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/11/07, "Microsoft's Cadillac of Webcams"). But the NX-6000 also pledges to shoot high-quality video, and it doesn't deliver on that promise, once again proving that more megapixels alone don't make a better camera.

Holahan is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York .

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