Now that most notebooks come with built-in webcams, standalone cameras can be a tough sell, especially if they’re ugly. But the Microsoft LifeCam Show is attractive in more ways than one, offering a compact design, versatile mounting options, and above-average image and audio quality for video chats. Plus, Microsoft has really stepped up its game in the special effects department.
As a webcam that can stand alone as a desk accessory, the LifeCam Show blends in sleekly. At 2.4 x 1.3 x 0.5 inches, it’s petite, with a flat, glassy front (no protruding lenses here), silver rim, and a chocolate-colored satin back. Microsoft’s signature Windows Live Call button is hidden discreetly on the left side. Circular indentations are on both the front and back side, into which you can insert dome-shaped magnets, allowing for three different attachment options.
The LifeCam Show’s included mounting options are just as important as the webcam itself. A willowy brown desktop stand, in a rich chocolate brown, makes the LifeCam Show look more like a tasteful decoration than just another gadget cluttering your desk. A brown clip can attach the webcam to your notebook lid. And two round magnets can cling to your notebook with adhesive; although we’re hesitant to use adhesive on our own laptops, some may prefer this option to make traveling from room to room with the webcam easier.
Good Image Quality
The LifeCam Show is compatible with a variety of popular IM clients, including Microsoft’s own Windows Live Messenger and Office Communicator, as well as AIM, Skype, and Yahoo Messenger. Although Microsoft says on its product site that the webcam has a 2-megapixel sensor and takes 8-MP photos, the highest resolution at which we could record video was 800 x 600 pixels. (When you set the resolution to 2-MP the LifeCam software automatically disables video recording.)
That said, video at that resolution looked fluid, with barely noticeable latency around the mouth. The LifeCam Show autofocus performed well as we moved around. Moreover, the noise-canceling mics made our voices sound loud and lifelike.
Our 8-MP photos looked bright with punchy colors, though we noticed a good deal of shutter lag. And even though the lens doesn’t protrude, it still delivers a powerful 5X digital zoom.
Improved Special Effects
We’ve been complaining for ages that LifeCam series special effects were cheap. It seems that Microsoft finally heard us: the Show ushers in a revamped effects package that includes distortions, fun filters, and facial accessories (we’re fans of the pink Britney Spears bob). Those two-dimensional screen decorations we previously panned are still there, too.
You can open the special effects pane by hitting a discreet star icon on the main console. Each special effect is cutely represented by a matching face (the one that makes your eyes look buggy, for instance, has cartoonishly large eyes).
As simple as it is, we had some issues with the LifeCam software. Sometimes we had to click multiple times to apply effects. Moreover, the facial accessories took a few seconds to show up on screen, and then a few more to find our face. As we moved around, these accessories flickered, occasionally disappearing if we leaned too far forward.
Microsoft has finally produced a webcam that rivals the Editors’ Choice–winning Logitech QuickCam Pro for Notebooks. For the same price, it offers comparable image quality; the special effects aren’t quite as broad or responsive, but the design is sleeker. If you crave top-notch video quality and design is more important than special effects, the $99.95 LifeCam Show is a hit.