HP, not a regular in our webcam roundups, recently unveiled a top-shelf webcam for gadget enthusiasts. Although we like the design of the HP Elite Autofocus, which boasts 3-megapixel video and 12-MP still photos, we wished the high-end specs delivered better image quality during video chats.
At 7.0 x 6.2 x 2.2 inches, The Elite Autofocus is about as large as theCreative Live Cam Optia AFbut dwarfs theLogitech QuickCam Pro for Notebooks. It has a boxy, rectangular shape and, like HP's notebooks, has a glossy piano-black finish. When in use, its buttons and edges glow electric blue. We love its range of motion: it can tilt 55 degrees vertically and pan 320 degrees horizontally--all without compromising its sturdy grip on your notebook's lid. The lens also has a privacy shade.
The stereo speakers flanking the webcam are made of chrome, as are the three programmable launch buttons on the top, which grant one-touch access to the video-recording, photo-capture, and instant messaging programs of your choice. Unfortunately, these keys are stiff and noisy. Optimized for notebooks and desktops, the HP Elite comes with a large rubber and chrome base that can clamp onto a monitor or stand on its own beside your computer. However you use it, we think the 3.3 feet of cable is excessive.
High Resolution (So What?)
With a sensor large enough to take 12-MP photos, the Elite Autofocus boasts impressive specs. But while your snapshots will be humongous, the image quality was disappointing on our tests. With the exception of flush skin tones, our pictures were ill-lit and dull. Moreover, we noticed considerable shutter lag. We prefer the Optia AF and the QuickCam Pro for Notebooks, both 8-MP.
The HP Elite Autofocus works with Skype, Yahoo Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, and Windows Live Messenger. (Unlike the QuickCam Pro for Notebooks, this webcam is incompatible with Skype's High Quality Video service). Although 3-MP video is a big selling point, this setting reduces video to a snail's pace: five frames per second. Even at 1.3 MP, video was choppy, with plenty of motion blur and out-of-sync audio.
For fluid, 30 fps video, you'll have to choose run-of-the-mill VGA resolution. The problem is there's no reason to pay $99 for a webcam if you're going to create video at such a tiny resolution. The sound was disappointing, too; the volume was lower than we expected, given the stereo speakers.
On the bright side, the lens did an excellent job refocusing, even when we brought ourselves eye-to-eye with the camera. If you want the webcam to come to you, so to speak, it also has 5X digital zoom.
Like other webcams, the Elite Autofocus comes with special effects for spicing up video chats. The effects, courtesy of ArcSoft Magic-i 3, include six fun filters, seven distortion effects, seven mirror options, twelve 2D frames, six animated frames, six avatars, and six backgrounds. Even though it has about as many effects as the QuickCam Pro for Notebooks, we prefer Logitech's suite because it has more fun filters and a cleaner interface.
The webcam also comes with optional HP Photosmart Essential software. ArcSoft WebCam Companion 2 helps users capture, edit, and share recordings. Although not sleek, the interface is simple to master and doesn't inundate the user with too many options. When it comes to e-mailing captures, Hotmail and Windows Mail are the only two clients listed as options in WebCam Companion 2.
HP Elite Autofocus Verdict
It takes more than high resolution to make a good webcam. Although the HP Elite Autofocus's chrome-accented design and top-of-the-line specs make it look like a winner, its dull image quality, bumpy video, and forgettable suite of special effects fall far short of the Logitech QuickCam Pro for Notebooks, our Editors' Choice pick for the same price.