The thing about making gadgets is that you have to keep upgrading them to keep in touch with the latest trends, or everyone regards you as yesterday’s news. While 3D is all the rage for movies and monitors, HD is the current must-have for camcorders, digital still cameras – and now webcams.
As you might expect, Microsoft’s webcams – and especially its LifeCam range – have always endeavoured to be at the front of the fashion pack. With the LifeCam Studio, Microsoft has once again proved it can be a trendsetter rather than a follower. If you’re already familiar with Microsoft’s LifeCam Cinema, you’ll recognise its familiar styling here, with the long barrel shaped casing and the firm, flexible clamp beneath.
Full HD resolution
The main new feature of the LifeCam Studio is a full 1080p HD sensor, as opposed to the LifeCam Cinema’s 720p, resulting in a general doubling of all the dimensions. There’s much more metal in the housing, too, with the front shroud extended to keep out unwanted light.
In the base of the mount is a tripod thread so the camera’s positioning is no longer constricted by the size and depth of your monitor. The Webcam itself can also be rotated through a full 360 degrees, so there’s no excuse for not finding the perfect viewing angle.
Setting the camera up is simply a question of inserting the supplied DVD software and following the instructions – plug in the USB lead, and you’re ready to go. Once you’ve set the menu option to maximum resolution, the picture almost leaps out at you in 16:9 widescreen.
The LifeCam’s autofocus does an excellent job at keeping you sharp as you bob and weave in front of the lens. We even found backgrounds were also remarkably detailed. There were moments, though, (usually at start-up) when the AF needed a brief nudge to spring into action.
Using Microsoft’s proprietary TrueColor and ClearFrame technologies, the video images adjust rapidly to low lighting conditions and still emerge with bright, authentic and vivid colours. This will probably be the first time that you’ve looked at webcam pictures and thought you were watching camcorder movies – despite the fact that videos can only be recorded at 720p, even though the camera has a 1080p sensor. Icons beneath the live images allow you to record both stills and film clips to a folder, where they can then be tagged, e-mailed or made into movies using the supplied software.
A pop-out panel to the right of the camera display lets you adjust brightness, white balance, saturation and zoom manually, or you can have hours of fun playing with 42 visual effects that will make your friends giggle while you’re chatting on Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo, AOL or Skype – there’s even a handy button on the top to help get the video chat underway in seconds.
If we had to come up with with one down side to this webcam, it would be the lack of a stereo microphone. Although the built-in mono mi’s overall sound is good, with decent bass response, it lacks noise suppression. And if you’re worried that the webcam’s price may be slightly too steep for you, then be reassured that some online stores are selling the LifeCam Studio for around £69.
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Microsoft's LifeCam Studio brings the webcam bang up to date, with a Full 1080 HD sensor, excellent autofocus and picture quality, improved (mono) sound, plus the option to mount the camera on a tripod.