So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Microsoft LifeCam VX-7000
- Arresting design, easy setup, can be mounted on a variety of surfaces
- 2Mp video lags badly, certain features only work with Windows Live Messenger
The Lifecam VX-7000 offers a reasonable performance in most areas, but $150 is a pretty big ask for a webcam; particularly when some of its premium features don't work properly. Only consider buying if you're a Windows Live fan.
Price$ 149.95 (AUD)
When it comes to its hardware peripherals, Microsoft is a firm believer in enthusiastic overkill. The minions under Bill Gate's whip love nothing more than to cram as many superfluous features into a product as humanly possible -- after all, the more stuff you throw at a gadget, the more likely some of it will stick with consumers, right? In reality, this philosophy tends to compromise the overall quality of a device and has led to a swathe of electronic overachievers that fail to deliver on their lofty promises (step up, the Sidewinder gaming mouse). Unfortunately, Microsoft's latest periphery offering, the Lifecam VX-7000, falls squarely into this category of mixed bags.
At first glance, the VX-7000 appears to have a lot going for it. It sports a high-definition 2-megapixel sensor (up from the LifeCam VX-6000's 1.3Mp), a 4x digital zoom, an integrated microphone with noise-cancellation, fancy video effects and a wide-angle lens. It is also handsomely crafted, with a sleek and intelligent design that will sit equally well on a desktop, monitor or notebook. On further inspection however, it turns out that a few of the VX-7000's finer selling-points aren't exactly what they're cracked up to be.
For instance, the camera's video performance is almost unwatchable at its highest resolution; with lethargic, choppy frame rates and fluctuating light levels. This effectively trumps the VX-7000's main calling card as a 2Mp webcam. As you'd expect, lower resolutions produced smoother results at the expense of picture quality. We found the 640x480 setting to work best, as it struck a reasonable balance between picture and video, although images still appeared grainy in dim lighting.
Another feature that failed to impress us was the glass element wide-angle lens. While fine in theory, the rectangular frame reveals too much of your background surroundings, with your face and shoulders 'dwarfed' somewhere in the middle. On the plus side, if you regularly surf the Internet with a friend in tow, the added space should accommodate both your mugs simultaneously.
Otherwise, the VX-7000 fared quite well in the majority of areas. Setting up the device couldn't be easier -- simply pop the installation CD into your drive and follow the prompts. Curiously, during our first installation attempt the program abruptly shut down our computer, without so much as a by-your-leave. We have no idea what caused this, but for the record, our second attempt ran without a hitch.
We were also quite impressed by the VX-7000's noise-cancelling microphone, which picked up voices over environmental noise with considerable aplomb. Likewise, its audio performance remained impressively clear throughout our testing.
Although it is compatible with most instant-messaging services, the Lifecam VX-7000 has clearly been designed with Microsoft's Windows Live in mind. Subsequently, certain Live-specific features, such as the dedicated call button and photo-swap feature, only work with this application. If you're a Yahoo user or ICQ stalwart, we'd recommend giving this webcam a miss in favour of the more versatile Logitech QuickCam Pro for Notebooks.
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