You can only fit so much in front of your camera, but picking up your laptop and spinning it is a chore. Microsoft's LifeCam Cinema HD is a $44, 720p webcam that sits on a 360-degree swivel and lets you show your video-chatting partner everything in the room. It produces sharp video, but it may take a bit of time to autofocus first. In addition, it's complicated to attach to laptops and some monitors, which is a problem for a webcam you're supposed to move around.
Unlike many traditional webcams, the LifeCam Cinema HD is shaped like a barrel. It is 2.1-inches long and mostly black with the exception of a silver ring around the lens and the Microsoft logo on the side. A microphone is located on the top of the camera.
The Cinema's most notable feature is that it rests on a swivel. This allows users to turn it around a full 360 degrees. It's easier, though, to rotate 180 degrees in either direction, as the cord coming out of the back of the camera twists, too. The cord is nice and long, and includes a built-in wrapper to keep everything tidy.
Microsoft's webcam isn't as easy to mount on a monitor or laptop as it should be. You have to find the right angle for the bendable arm so that the foot on the end perfectly hits the back of the display. Despite an illustration in the box telling me how to affix it, I couldn't get the LifeCam Cinema to be perfectly steady on my laptop. While it was tight enough to stay put, it would come undone as soon as I went to rotate the camera. This was less of a problem on my monitor, which is thicker and had more cushion for the camera's pushin'. The one benefit of the bending arm is that it's sturdy enough to hold itself up on your desk or a shelf above your computer. Unlike the Logitech HD Webcam C920, it doesn't have a screw mount for tripods.
Picture and Sound Quality
The LifeCam Cinema takes 720p video and photos up to 2880 x 1620. Still photos that I took using the camera weren't as sharp as those I captured with the Logitech HD Webcam C920 (1080p option), but they were just as sharp as the Logitech HD Webcam C310. Microsoft's cheaper option, the LifeCam HD-3000, wasn't as good.
A selfie I shot was mostly clear, but its autofocus didn't do the Cinema HD any favors. Hairs on my forehead were out of focus, but my eyes, mouth, nose and beard were all crisp and detailed. The background appeared a bit darker than it did in reality, but I appeared bright.
Video quality was more consistent. It took a few tries for the camera to focus, but once it did the recording was sharp. It didn't block out ambient noise the way the C920 did, and there was a slight hiss upon playback. My voice, however, was loud and completely intelligible.
Microsoft's LifeCam software is a quick download from the web that provides your Cinema HD with extra functionality beyond using it for Skype. There are a number of fun masks, filters and effects, as well as more practical adjustments, like picking photo and video resolution.
The software also serves as a camera app. It can record video, take photos and capture audio (the latter of which you can't do with Logitech's webcam software).
The LifeCam Cinema HD produces clear images and sharp video, all of which will undoubtedly be better than what comes from your laptop's integrated webcam. The camera's ability to rotate 360 degrees is both cool and useful, but limited by how difficult it is to make the Cinema HD stay put on your display.
If you can spend another $20, the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 ($66) is a better option than Microsoft's camera. While you lose the rotation, the C920 has a wide 78-degree field of view that can easily fit a second person in the frame, 1080p resolution and decent noise cancellation.
But if you're looking for a flexible camera with full-featured software under its belt, the Cinema HD is a solid choice. Just make sure you fasten it nice and tight.