Nice one, it's refreshing to see a reviewer consider linux in a hardware test. As i run both Win7 and Ubuntu it's very relevant, top marks for that and please encourage it to the other folks at RegHardware :)
With World+Dog now using Skype or an IM app to video-chat to friends and family across the globe, it's worth remembering that how you look to the world at large is dependent on the quality of the webcam you are using. If you are using a low-end laptop or netbook, the integrated 1.3Mp or even 0.3Mp webcam is not going to give …
I've got a bit of a question. At the beginning of the article, you state that 1.3 Mp webcams (1280x1024) aren't good enough for video conferencing, yet later you cite several "720p" webcams, which have a resolution of 1280x720 (0.9 Mp). How is it that lower-resolution webcams provide superior quality than higher-resolution webcams?
There are other products out there... I have a good spec PC (Core i7) and bought the Trust HD Webcam for £25 and it's great - has a built in LED light, is small, clips nicely to the LCD monitor I have, sound is OK... for all the products, end-end bandwidth is a significant issue so for now this low cost, good product is sufficient.
Details here: http://www.trust.com/products/product.aspx?artnr=16530
So, the author wants good low-light performance, high quality sound, high definition and (implicitly) to spend less than £100. Sorry chummy: choose one.
Now, I'm no expert (shocker!) but the tiny little sensors in webcams simply don't have the sensitivity to provide noise-free images - especially at higher frame rates and in ordinary, domestic light levels. Go outside into the daylight and you might just stand a chance, but in a dimly lit room - no way.
Sound quality? That has GOT to come from an external microphone. There are no alternatives. Whether it's pinned onto your clothes or hand held, the omnidirectional little electret jobbie stuck onto a webcam several feet away from your gob cannot help picking up all the other sounds and echoes in the room.
HD - hmmmm. Fail. Just how much bandwidth do you think you have? While it may be possible for the average web user to pull down real-time video at a reasonable 1.5MByte/sec over their high-end connection, pushing stuff UP the wire is a whole different game - divide that speed by ten and you're getting close. Try getting HD video up a 150KByte/sec connection and the amount of compression you will have to apply negates any benefits from a HD webcam. I suppose if you keep stock-still, so there's very little difference from one frame to the next, you might just stand a chance, but then you may as well put a cardboard cutout in front of the camera.
So no. While there are some webcams that actually can provide decent quality video in a not too mangled form across a USB 2.0 link, under ideal conditions, they need careful nurturing and the right conditions to achieve this. Simply plunking one on a PC, firing up Skype in a bedroom with a single CFL illuminating the top of your head and saying "Hello Mum" won't do it. All the limitations of price kick in: whether that's the build cost of a £100 webcam (compared to the £5000 "pro" cameras), the cheapness of the built in microphone, the lack of decent lighting or the bottlenecks of sending highly compressed packets half way round the world. You're wasting your time and money - might as well stick with a £5 device off eBay.
One last thing - for god's sake smile! If you're sending video to people, at least look happy to see them.
Do all of these have the irritating bright red light when they're on?
I use a Mac and have a Logitech Sphere at the moment, a great webcam but has a really quite painfully bright red light shining in your eyes. I found a registry hack in Windows to turn it off, but as OS X doesn't install anything I can't disable it... so i'm looking at a new webcam, a couple of these appeal but am i going to get the same thing???
I've worked with MS LifeCam Cinema HD and Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000. Both have been on the market for a while - both are HD. Good looking cameras, good optics, good low light performance. A bit on the expensive side (specially the QuickCam 9000) - but I feel worth the money. The QuickCam Pro 9000 has also been used for all sorts of home brew cctv or birdcam setups - even connected to Linksys NSLU2 - at 266MHz! Just search the net.
When I video chat with my nieces and nephews, the software that comes with my Logitech QuickCam that recognizes my face position and allows me to overlay various hats and masks is always good for 20 minutes of fun.
Logitech only allows it to run on their more expensive cameras, even though the work is done by your CPU, not the camera, but I'd be inclined to recommend the Logitech webcams if you've got kids in the family.
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