Streaming video games is more popular than ever, and some of the best broadcasters use green screens to get rid of the living room behind them and put themselves right on top of the action. If you don't have the room or money for a physical green screen, but want effortless background removal, the $150 Razer Stargazer is the solution for you. The only external webcam with an Intel RealSense 3D camera onboard, it has the best green-screen mimicry we've seen, but the image quality isn't as vivid and detailed as on the best regular webcams. But if you're looking for a camera mainly to stream games on Twitch or YouTube Live, the Stargazer has your name on it.
The Stargazer is bulkier and far more imposing than the average webcam. It's a large, jet-black tube that measures a lengthy 5.1 inches wide and 1 inch thick. The camera has three large sensors that are mounted across the front (typical for cameras that support Intel's RealSense 3D scanning technology): an infrared sensor, color sensor and an infrared laser projector. Those sensors are flanked on the sides by microphones and raised, textured handles that allow you to adjust the camera angle.
The braided micro USB 3.0-to-USB A cable is a whopping 8.2 feet long (surpassing the Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam's 6 feet), so you'll have plenty of room to connect a gaming desktop to the camera. The cable is also removable, so if you break it, you can replace it.
Razer aped Logitech's great, hinged design with the mounting arm (and added its three-headed snake logo), which makes attaching it to a monitor supersimple. If you don't touch it, it stays in place, but the fit is a bit looser than it is on the C922. If you prefer to use a tripod, there's a mount on the bottom for easy attachment.
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Intel RealSense and Hardware Requirements
The Stargazer uses Intel's RealSense technology for depth perception and its excellent dynamic-background removal feature. This limits the camera to Windows 10 computers with sixth-generation or later Intel Core CPUs, a minimum specification that non-RealSense webcams don't require. If you have an older processor or use Windows 7 or 8, you're out of luck with the Stargazer.
Besides streaming, one of the benefits of using Intel RealSense is that you can use the infrared camera with Windows Hello to make a facial scan that will enable you to log in to your PC. It works great, and I tested it in both bright and pitch-dark rooms. But there's one glitch: After the PC was asleep for a while, the camera dozed off and wasn't ready to go. I had to click on the facial-recognition option for the camera to turn on and scan me, which makes the whole process far less seamless.
Picture and Sound Quality
The Stargazer takes decent photos and videos, and it offers great sound. You won't be the sharpest-looking streamer on Twitch, but your Skype calls will be crystal-clear.When I snapped some photos with the Stargazer in the Laptop Mag labs, I appeared slightly blurry in the 1080p shots. However, the camera has strong color accuracy: It captured the exact shade of my olive-green sweater. The camera had a hard time focusing on my hair and parts of my face, however, which resulted in fuzzy details. It's better than a laptop's built-in webcam, but doesn't hold a candle to the C922, which delivers better color and details so sharp that I could see individual hairs in my beard.
The Stargazer also failed to compete with the C922 in low-light settings. While I could see slightly more with the Stargazer, Razer's camera was completely and utterly defeated by grain and noise. What I could see with the C922, I saw with great detail and color accuracy.
Both cameras have great microphones, but the Stargazer wins out here because it's better at filtering out ambient noise. I couldn't hear my colleagues typing in a recording I made, for example, and there was less feedback than what I got on the C922 (which was already minimal).
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Software and Streaming
Razer doesn't include too much software with the camera. The only requirement is Razer Synapse, the company's program for configuring all of its laptops and peripherals. If you already have a Razer mouse or keyboard, this will be dead-simple. There are a few adjustment sliders in Synapse to change saturation, contrast and other image options, but otherwise, you won't need to touch it too much.
Synapse does have a link to a web page with software that uses Intel RealSense. That site mostly links to experimental face-scanning apps that you can download -- along with a handful of games, like NBA 2K16 or Lego Portal Racers -- that use facial scanning or gesture recognition. But if you're looking to live-stream, you'll have to find some streaming software, like Razer Cortex or XSplit Gamecaster, both of which have RealSense support built in.
The technology Razer and Intel use to strip the background in a shot is head and shoulders above the competition. The Stargazer removed the world behind me just as if I were sitting in front of a green screen. The effect was instantaneous, with no setup required.That's far better than the C922, which was finicky to set up. I often had to start that webcam several times before it would recognize me, though it would usually be consistent afterward. Even then, it wasn't as precise as when it removed the background. The C922 was far more likely to clip off an ear or part of my hair than the Stargazer, which pretty much always had an exact cutout of my head and shoulders.
The Stargazer can capture you at 60 frames per second at 720p or 30 frames per second at 1080p, just like the C922, though that doesn't change your gameplay's stream rate.
Razer recommends using a second streaming PC, if you have one, to avoid any performance issues. However, in order to really test the Stargazer, I played test runs of Rise of the Tomb Raider and Overwatch on the Razer Blade Pro in two different lighting situations: our bright lab and a darkened room while streaming with XSplit Gamecaster. At 4K on high settings, games stuttered, as did the video of me in the stream. When I pushed the system to its limits, my mouth moved seconds after I said anything. There was much less lag at 1080p, and I played Overwatch at a smooth 111 frames per second.
In every scenario, the Stargazer worked immediately, cutting me out and placing me in the corner of the screen without a hitch. The only issue I encountered was that if I raised my hands and gestured quickly, RealSense would occasionally lose track of my fingers.
Since the Stargazer is currently the only external RealSense camera on the market (except for a developer kit), owners may have other reasons to use it besides gaming. If you want to spice up your conference calls, a RealSense-ready version of Personify puts you on top of your desktop to better share presentations, your desktop or even YouTube videos with you floating on top of it. ChromaCam, Personify's other background-replacement software, didn't demonstrate any noticeable improvement with the Stargazer, since it is not optimized for RealSense.
Because RealSense can take 3D images, you can also use apps like 3DMe to scan your face onto custom figures to order for an extra cost.
The Razer Stargazer does a great job of silhouetting your head and torso so that your face can float on top of games or presentations. It's not the sharpest webcam around, but amateur and semipro game streamers without the means for an actual green screen will want to drop $150 on the Stargazer for its best-in-class background removal.
If you're budget-conscious, have an older PC or are a more casual streamer, you'll want to opt for the Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam, which produces sharper, more vivid images for $100, but is harder to set up and a bit finicky when it comes to background removal.
But if you want the best green-screen mimicry around, have a relatively new computer and prioritize looking awesome on Twitch rather than looking completely sharp on conference calls, the Razer Stargazer is a strong choice.