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Microsoft LifeCam VX-5500
A webcam for your mum.
- Good low-light performance, 3-D face-tracking, appealingly low-key design
- Only suited to flat surfaces, face plates are a bit bland, incompatible with Macs
The VX-5500 is a basic little webcam that offers decent sound and image quality. It’s not the most versatile webcam on the market, but it gets the job done for a semi-reasonable price. Of course, the same thing can be said of every other Microsoft model. A less than essential purchase.
Price$ 59.95 (AUD)
If Hollywood’s leading men were reincarnated into webcams (in a Cyberpunk alternate reality, say), the LifeCam VX-5500 would be Matthew McConaughey. Like the prodigious rom-com beefcake, it’s bland, slightly overpriced for what it offers, but good-looking enough to coast by on charisma alone. We’re also pretty sure that chicks will dig it.
As this slightly bonkers analogy illustrates, we weren't particularly fond of the VX-5500. While it doesn’t do anything wrong per se, it offers very little to distinguish itself from Microsoft’s other webcam models, such as the LifeCam VX-6000 or Lifecam NX-3000. Its main claim to fame is the ability to swap between different faceplates, all of which are finished in boring primary colours. You’d think Microsoft would have thrown in a cool graffiti pattern or something, but no: red, blue and white are your lot. ...Like, woot.
With the exception of this dubious selling point, the LifeCam VX-5500 is virtually identical to its older sibling, the VX-5000. Both webcams sport the same specifications and components, including a VGA sensor (complete with glass lens), a noise-cancelling microphone, a 3x digital zoom and the ability to take 1.3-megapixel photos (via interpolation). They also share the same software, although Microsoft has added a few new video effects, including some interesting 3-D face-tracking filters. It’s not a bad bundle, but $59.95 is still pretty steep for what you’re getting. Like most top-tier vendors, Microsoft appears to be charging an extra $5 or $10 for the logo alone.
All up, we found the VX-5500’s image quality to be above average in most lighting situations. Its maximum resolution is roughly comparable to inbuilt notebook webcams (which are getting pretty good these days). Of particular note was its low-light performance, which exhibited less noise than the typical $60 webcam. It will definitely get the job done if you just want to chat with friends and family, though online bloggers may need to invest in something a little more high-end, such as the feature-packed QuickCam Pro 9000.
When it comes to looks, the LifeCam VX-5500 is a cut above the usual bobble-headed offerings, especially for fans of minimalist design. It has a compact square body that looks quite tasteful without drawing attention to itself — perfect for sparse, ordered desktops. Those who prefer a funkier look may not be so enthused however. (Perhaps Microsoft will release an accessory pack of "youth-friendly" faceplates in the future).
The LifeCam VX-5500 comes with a versatile rubber-lined base that can be lifted, swivelled and tilted into a variety of positions. However, the stand is only suited to flat surfaces, with no way to securely fasten it to a notebook or LCD. By contrast, the Microsoft LifeCam VX-7000 came with both a stand and a built-in clip. Unless you use an old-school CRT monitor, you will need to perch the webcam on your desk and tilt it upwards, which can lead to some gruesome double-chin/nostril shots. Narcissists may therefore want to steer clear.
Being a Microsoft product, the LifeCam VX-5500 has been optimised for Windows Live Messenger, though it will also work fine with most messenger sites and Skype applications. Like previous LifeCams, a Windows Live Call button is included on the top of the camera, which quickly brings up your IM contacts to start a video call. This basically saves you a mouse click, which makes it kind of pointless.
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