Under Review: Affordable VX-5000 LifeCam ticks consumer boxes

Under Review: Affordable VX-5000 LifeCam ticks consumer boxes

Microsoft’s LifeCam VX-5000 is a stylish-looking device, with good image quality and a new flexible stand that works well.

While affordability hasn’t been associated with some of the vendor’s pricey peripherals, this webcam is aimed at letting consumers have fun sharing photos and video, so all the tick marks above have been kept to a recommended retail of $99 to ensure its within their reach.

The price is one indicator that this product isn’t among the very top tier of webcams – other signs are the lack of higher-end features found in, for example, Logitech’s $179.90 QuickCam Pro 9000, such as autofocus, higher definition video, and more sophisticated effects and filters in the bundled software.

However, there are many things to like about Microsoft’s offering.

The bendable rubber base attaches equally well to laptop screens, desktop monitors and TVs of varying widths. Once you install the LifeCam 2.0 software and plug the camera into a USB port, it’s ready to use. The 1.82 metre cable gives further flexibility for the placement of the camera.

The VX-5000’s lens is surrounded by a square of black plastic with a choice of three coloured rings to frame the casing.

There’s a LiveCall button on top of the unit to start a video call from your contact list, but the difficulty with this placement is you often hit the button when you’re repositioning the camera.

The webcam is 1.3-megapixel VGA with a maximum of 640 x 480 MP resolution for video and 1280 x 960 for still images, with 3x digital zoom. Video quality was sharp and detailed and there was no discernible lag.

Microsoft is touting the VX-5000’s low-light auto-adjustment feature and this too worked well.

Being a Microsoft webcam, the vendor’s Windows Live Messenger is the best option for full-featured use of the camera. Live Messenger allows you to take a still image and send it to a contact, upload the image to your Microsoft Spaces blogs and add foreground graphics using the dashboard.

The LifeCam dashboard’s navigational controls appear in the Live Messenger interface to control positioning and video effects. It won’t allow multi-user video calling though.

For those using Skype or other IM offerings, the quality settings and camera positioning adjustments can still be controlled in these programmes through the link between the suites and the camera driver.

The built-in microphone will pick up most sounds, but doesn’t work as well if you sit too far back from the camera.

The software remains quite basic – it has windows showing recorded videos and photos, as well as icons for video, audio and photo capture. If you click to capture a still image, icons for editing, emailing and posting to your blog appear. There’s also a button for the effects dashboard.

Like the software, the range of effects is also limited. Other webcam vendors have expanded their offerings in this regard to include backgrounds and avatars, but Microsoft’s effects are 2D, cartoon-like, in the foreground and simple.

Overall, however, the VX-5000 has enough features, usability, affordability and good looks to recommend it. We’d also like to see the flexible hinge continued on future Microsoft LifeCams.

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