The Logitech HD Webcam C510 joins the small but growing party of webcams able to make high-def video calls with a relatively compact, foldable design. In addition to videoconferencing in greater detail, the C510 ($59.99) also lets you upload HD videos directly to Facebook and YouTube. However, you won't be able see that high-def quality when using Skype. So is this peripheral worth the investment?
About the size of a large lighter and twice as thick, the sturdy Logitech C510 is more than an inch shorter and over half an ounce lighter than the boxy FaceVsion Touchcam N1. We also like the classy, polished accents. The C510's 5-foot USB cord is permanently attached to the back of the camera lens. That means slipping the webcam into the included mesh bag involves wrapping the cord up first, which is slightly more cumbersome and messy than packing up the N1, which has a detachable cord.
The C510 has a lens that can rotate 360 degrees, which makes it easy to record the action around you. It also includes rubberized pads on the two-part clipping mechanism that help prevent scratches. In short, the C510 will look good sitting on top of your notebook's display, external monitor, or simply resting on the stand's rounded bottom for desktops.
The C510 is plug-and-play, so once you slip the USB port into your PC, the camera's drivers upload either automatically (Windows XP) or with a few prompts (Windows 7, Vista). While Logitech's proprietary HD video calling software can be downloaded from the company's website, software for taking 8-megapixel still shots, playing with Logitech's engaging effects options, and capturing and editing (but not streaming) 720p video can only be installed from the included software CD. The device doesn't support Macs.
Because the C510 does not contain a built-in H.264 video encoder chip to help process HD video like the FaceVsion N1 HD webcam, it can only shoot and stream standard-definition video (640 x 480 or 768 x 480 pixels) while using Skype. Instead, Logitech pairs the C510 with proprietary video chatting software called Vid HD, which lets you stream high-quality webcam video at the optimal 720p resolution. Wholly separate from Logitech's general webcam software, at minimum it requires a PC with a 2.24-GHz Core 2 Duo processor, at least 2GB of RAM, and an upload connection of about 1 Mbps. In order for your friends to view you in HD, they'll need to download and install the app too. Fortunately, it's free.
We appreciated that the layout of controls in Vid HD were conveniently similar to Skype: answer and end call buttons, options to open or resize the outgoing video window, and full-screen key were all laid out along the button of the window. There are prompts to view in full-screen, an option to toggle between Picture-in-Picture viewing, and a setting to turn off the webcam.
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We liked that when friends were added to our Vid HD account they showed up in the app's landing page, complete with their own avatar image.
The Vid HD software isn't just for face-to-face chats. It also offers one-click Facebook and YouTube uploads, making it easy to share clips online. If you want to spice things up, Vid HD offers some effects of its own, such as the ability to add grandiose backgrounds, props like hats, and layer masks. It didn't take long, though, before the novelty wore off.
You can also use the C510 to chat in IM clients like Google Chat, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and yes, Skype. However, 720p video quality is not available for any of those programs.
The video tweaking effects within Logitech's webcam software were also pretty cool. In addition to black-and-white, sketch, and distortion filters, we could add humorous images, such as a pig's nose or half of a cyborg mask over our faces. We could also calibrate our facial movements so that full masks (of say, an alien or a talking shark) would sync with our mouths and we could film ourselves speaking as the character.
Logitech also includes a free 7-day trial of video editing software from Magix ($39.99) and a 60-day trial of Fast Access for facial recognition log-ins ($24.99 after trial period). Magix let us edit the video timeline, adjust visual settings (brightness, contrast and saturation), tweak volume and background noise, and insert photos, music, or other video clips. Because the webcam software makes it dead-simple to share video on YouTube--just right click on saved videos to start uploading--we recommend the investment for video bloggers who edit webcam footage frequently.
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During Skype calls, we consistently streamed 30 frames of video per second at the standard 640 x 480 pixels. Quality was smooth but slightly pixelated and blocky. The C510 employs RightLight light-adjusting technology that can either auto-correct white balance or be used to manually adjust light settings in situations with awkward backlighting.
While using Vid HD, the C510 captured sharper video with a resolution up to 1280 x 720 pixels. We noticed a wider viewing angle, as well as more accurate colors, and the resolution was a crisp 1280 x 720 pixels. Footage looked equally as vibrant and detailed as when we used the N1 webcam in Skype HD.
Unlike the stereo mics in the Logitech N1 webcam, the C510 contains a single microphone receiver located to the right of the camera lens. Still, audio quality was good, as the C510 uses a technology called RightSound to reduce the effect of background noise. Our co-tester heard us loud and clear in Skype and Google Chat, despite the fact that we were sitting about 1.5 feet from the device.
Once the Logitech webcam software and Logitech Vid HD program are installed, the device becomes much more functional. Still shots using the 8-MP webcam came out sharp, with excellent foreground detail (our plaid shirt looked very HD) and slightly murky backgrounds (the cubicle behind us was blurred).
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For $59.99, the C510 is a portable 720p webcam that performs well with robust bundled software. However, for many the inability to use the device with Skype HD will be a deal-breaker. Those users may want to spend the extra dough on the $119 FaceVsion N1 HD webcam, which supports 720p video streaming in Skype HD. Nevertheless, if you're in the market for a high-def webcam on a budget, the C510 is a good pick.