July 28, 2008

The Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000 ($99.95 list) is marketed as a way to capture those "special moments" in life—baby’s first steps or what-have-you—from afar. It also adds a layer of intimacy to instant-messaging and makes video chatting with friends and family easy. The webcam produces 1,280-by-1,024 video and 5-megapixel still shots (interpolated) and works seamlessly with the newly released Windows Live Messenger. The built-in unidirectional microphone is convenient—no need for a separate headset, but it could do a better job of picking up sound at a reasonable volume.

The VX-6000 shoots video at 30 frames per second, and its 71-degree wide-angle lens lets multiple people crowd around the camera and participate in chats. It also offers pan and tilt control and 3X digital zoom. The webcam requires Microsoft Windows XP and works best with a broadband connection.

Setup is quick and painless. The VX-6000 will attach easily to most monitors. When you install the included LifeCam 1.0 software, you are asked if you would also like to install Windows Live Messenger. I recommend you do so, as I had the best results with the Live client, although the webcam will work with most other instant-messaging clients. You’re then prompted to connect the VX-6000 to your PC via USB and adjust the sound, mic, and video settings, including brightness, contrast, and flicker. There are also some fun video effects you can play around with, including falling snowflakes and other whimsical fare.

I tested the VX-6000 with Windows Live Messenger, AIM, and (beta) Yahoo! Messenger with Voice. When using the webcam with Win-dows Live Messenger, I found the video quality to be good, and the 30 fps rate meant no jumpy video. I did, however, have some audio problems. When I tried out a video chat with a coworker, we couldn’t hear each other speak until we cranked each mic’s volume nearly all the way up, and then we both heard a significant amount of feedback. (We even tried holding the webcam right up to our faces, with no better results.)

To make a video call using the VX-6000 with Windows Live Messenger, you just press the call button on top of the LifeCam, choose from the list of current online buddies that pops up, and the call is initiated. You can control pan, tilt, and zoom, e-mail webcam photos, or upload them to Windows Live Spaces with one click. There’s also a cool face-tracking feature—if you move around while you’re talking, the webcam will follow you and keep your face in the middle of the frame. But don’t worry, you can turn this off if you’d like privacy.

When using AIM, I noticed a slight delay in both audio and video. I had the worst experience using Yahoo!. The video was jumpy and grainy. Even after both I and the person I was speaking with adjusted Yahoo!’s settings, it didn’t improve much.

Overall, the VX-6000 is a reasonably priced webcam with a nice set of features, but I wish the mic worked better.

buy it here

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