Microsoft Hardware is investing in a new line of digital cameras that can be used on your Windows PC, including the LifeCam VX-1000, LifeCam VX-3000 and the high end LifeCam VX-6000. They all look the same except for the colours, but have very different specs.
I have been playing with a LifeCam VX-6000 for a month now, and also using it as our (sometimes live, sometimes still picture) Geekcam.
The LifeCam VX-6000 is a good looking 1.3megapixel webcam, with USB 2.0 connection and built-in USB noise-cancelling microphone. It can be used on a flat surface, or through its ingenious attachment base, it can be positioned on top of almost any monitor. It certainly works well on top of LCD panels, as you can see in the picture below:
The optics are quite nice, and it's actually a 71 degree wide angle lens you see there. When I used it for the first time I was surprised at how much more "picture" I was able to capture compared to my old webcam on the same 640x480 size. The VX-6000 also provides automatic adjustment for low light conditions, although I found out that you do need some good lighting if you want a closer-to-reality picture.
Although you can just basically plug-and-play this webcam, you will really take full advantage of this new hardware if the companion software is installed. One word though (and that's why it took me this long to post this review): go to Microsoft Hardware website and download the latest version (as I write this you will find v1.2 on-line), which just came on-line recently. The version in the box is not feature-complete, and you will enjoy the product much more with the update.
The camera is a 1.3 megapixel device, but the software can be used to create still shots of up to 5 megapixel. Mind you this high resolution is only available for still images captured directly from the camera by clicking its button (on top of the camera) or the LifeCam program. If you are using a third party program (such as a webcam capture) then you are limited to the max resolution the third party program can capture. In any case your pictures will be much better quality than some cheaper alternatives.
The user interface on this LifeCam program is minimalist. But it's just the essentials that you need, nothing else, and it makes the whole thing really easy to use.
What can you get by using this software? Well, on top of having the ability of capturing 5 megapixel still frames, it also works as a video capture program - and that's when you need USB 2.0. The picture is very nice and fluid, and the sound is nice. But for better result you will need all the bandwidth possible, so USB 1.0 will not do the job properly.
Also you get the LifeCam Dashboard. This add-in, when used with the LifeCam program or Windows Live Messenger, allows you to add special effects and control the camera. You can add some funky comic-like drawings and moving things to your picture and video capture, as well as zoom up to 3x (digital zoom), pan and tilt the image and enable the automatic face tracking feature, which will zoom in/out and pan to make sure your face is always in the centre and in focus.
The face tracking is actually quite fun to use when during a live video call, but I wonder if the person on the other side gets dizzy. The software does the job quite well, but the constant zooming and panning around is like a roller coaster.
All these features can be used during a live video call over Windows Live Messenger which is very easy to start: simply click the button on top of the camera, and it will list all your WLM contacts. Just click a name and a video call can be established - including sound, which is very good thanks to the noise cancelling microphone.
Another interesting feature (promised on the box, but only available with the LifeCam 1.2 download mentioned before), is the One-Touch Blogging. Basically you just start the LifeCam program, and capture a picture with a single click and the LifeCam program uploads this to your Windows Live Spaces blog. The image is automatically added to the photo gallery and a new blog post is created - just waiting for you to write some blurb, add a subject and click the publish button.
There is also an e-mail button in the program, so you can automatically send an image to someone through e-mail, including the option of automatic resizing. Very handy.
When you have the proper drivers installed you can also see the VX-6000 in File Explorer, and "browse" it, which is actually just seeing a live image from the webcam directly on File Explorer's UI. Images captured this way are "buffered" and can be manipulated like those from digital cameras when attached to your computer.
High resolution and good picture quality;
Snaps to any monitor;
manual focus adjustment;
wide angle lens;
Higher resolution should be available to third party programs;
Sometimes it throws an exception when the program using the webcam closes (although v1.2 does it a lot less than v1.0 did).