Now that many, if not most, notebooks come with built-in webcams, standalone cameras might be a tough sell. They have to deliver both superior video quality and an attractive design. For a decent $49.95, the Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000 offers smooth video and a versatile, malleable form factor that lets you attach it to any surface. We just wish Microsoft would revamp its special effects package.
The VX-5000 is, without a doubt, the cutest webcam ever. The small, square face has rounded edges with a large peering lens that slopes inward rather than protruding. It's attached to a wide, flat rubber base that's flexible, so you can mold it to your notebook, set it on your desk, or even lay it flat. It's trimmed in one of three colors: Ours was Lucky Green, but you can also buy it in Fire Red or Cool Blue. The webcam has one button, the Windows Live Call button, which opens a list of your Windows Live contacts who are currently online. While this feature applies to Windows Live users only, the VX-5000 works with all major instant messaging services (e.g., AIM, Skype, Yahoo).
Microsoft's LifeCam software has undergone a slight face-lift and looks cleaner than previous iterations. The main console has a large window for recording video and taking photos. Beneath the frame are three icons for video, audio, and photo captures, as well as a smaller window where users can see their most recent photo. Once you've taken a picture, three additional icons appear in the preview window, allowing you to edit, e-mail, or post your photos to Windows Live Spaces. A button on the edge of the console opens and closes LifeCam's special effects dashboard.
Video and Image Quality
In the past, we've given Microsoft's notebook webcams mediocre ratings, but we're pleased with the VX-5000's image quality. Our 640 x 480 video was fluid; we noticed no latency around our mouth or our waving hands. The sound quality was accurate, thanks to the built-in mic, and it was sufficiently loud, too.
Although Microsoft claims it can auto-adjust to low-light conditions, we found that the VX-5000 didn't do a good job of compensating for changes in brightness. The camera doesn't have autofocus, as some of its pricier competitors do, but if you want the VX-5000 to come to you, use the 4X digital zoom, whose controls are on-screen.
Our 1.3-MP pictures showed accurate and sufficient brightness, even when we sat in a room with neither natural nor fluorescent lighting. Although skin tones looked flush, other colors in the picture looked dull.
One thing that Microsoft hasn't changed with the VX-5000 is its stable of primitive special effects. Unlike Creative and Logitech, whose software suites include filters, avatars, and backgrounds, Microsoft's LifeCam suite has just two-dimensional screen decorations, some of which are animated. In addition to their two-dimensional simplicity, the objects--puppies and ice cream cones, for instance--are juvenile.
Your notebook says a lot about you, and the accessories you buy for it should be just as stylish. Microsoft's $49.95 LifeCam VX-5000 is the most attractive webcam we've seen in awhile, and it delivers smooth video quality and decent 1.3-MP photos, to boot. If special effects are a priority, we recommend theLogitech QuickCam Pro for Notebooks($99.99). But if design is important and you want to save some cash, the VX-5000 is a good choice.