Plenty of customizable video-capture options
Smooth, 360-degree rotational swivelCons
Requires refocusing with every subtle movement
Picture is often extremely brightMicrosoft LifeCam HD-6000: A Great High-Def Webcam for Laptop Use
The Microsoft LifeCam HD-6000 ($60 as of August 5, 2010) delivers great video at a fantastic price--and its smart design makes it perfect for use with laptops.
The LifeCam HD-6000 shoots in 720p HD at frame rates of up to 30 frames per second (the best high-definition Webcam in our rankings, the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910, supports up to 1080p capture). The Microsoft Webcam has an autofocus feature, and its built-in image optimization technology helps keep colors bright and vivid in different lighting environments. The camera itself has 360-degree rotation. You can capture still images in high definition, too, so long as your computer meets the basic system requirements.
The LifeCam HD 6000 is square and lightweight with a visible wide-angle lens--an ideal design for laptop use. It swivels across a full 360 degrees and can tilt slightly upward or downward. A clip on the bottom of the unit attaches it tightly to the top or side of your open laptop, but it won't fit on most freestanding LCD monitors. A button at the top of the unit turns it on and activates Windows Live Messenger, Microsoft's recommended video messaging system. (You can use the Webcam with other services, such as Skype, too.)
The bundled Windows Live software isn't preloaded onto the device, and the camera doesn't automatically turn on when plugged in. As is the case with its sibling, the LifeCam HD-5000, you must first install Microsoft LifeCam software and Windows Live Messenger from the included CD-ROM--a process that took me about 10 minutes on my desktop and close to 20 minutes on my laptop. The software will prompt you to plug in the LifeCam HD-6000 via the attached USB cable when the software setup is complete.
To support high-def video chat with the LifeCam HD-6000, your PC must run Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or higher, with a 1.6GHz Intel dual-core or higher CPU, and at least 1GB of RAM. You'll need a CD-ROM drive to load the included Microsoft LifeCam software (alternatively, you can download the software from the Web). Because it lacks an onboard video processor, the LifeCam HD-6000 does not support HD video chat via Skype. If your system doesn't meet the given requirements for HD chatting, you can still chat in a non-HD video resolution of 640x480.
The only way to adjust the HD-6000's settings is with Microsoft LifeCam software, so if you're plan on using this device with AIM, Google Chat, Skype, or even Windows Live Messenger, you'll have to fiddle with the settings before you initiate chat. The Webcam shoots at various sizes and levels of image quality, from 160 by 120 to 1280 by 720 HD.
The Microsoft LifeCam software permits a number of other image settings for the HD-6000. The Webcam automatically adjusts to the amount of light present to provide the most vivid color possible; but you can turn off the TrueColor feature that automatically adjusts the image and then manually adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness, white balance, and background composition to achieve the optimum image. You can also zoom in or out with the desktop controls located in the main window of the LifeCam software. Once zoomed in, you can pan left, right, up, or down to focus in on a specific object. Unfortunately, you can't use zoom in HD mode.
In my tests, certain items appeared to be a little off-color in HD mode. For example, the gray carpet in my office appeared to have tiny multicolored specks. I also noticed some pixelation and graininess in areas of a single color. And finally, my face seemed a little fuzzy until I manually adjusted the brightness, but in eliminating the fuzziness I made my image appear unusually bright and lit up. Overall, TrueColor made objects in the shot look much brighter than in real life--great for low-light settings, but less so in an already bright room. I had to adjust the brightness scale to a level considerably below the default setting.
The autofocus on this Webcam was in continual action, updating and refocusing in response to every subtle movement. The people I chatted with found this to be very annoying--one moment I would look well-defined and normal, and the next I would be fuzzy and bright blue, even if I remained seated and scarcely moving the whole time. My chat partners reported that they could hear me loud and clear when I was seated directly in front of the camera, but as soon as I turned my head or moved slightly to the side, they noticed an echo and had a harder time hearing me.
Despite its color quirks, the Microsoft LifeCam HD-6000 is a solid choice for casual video chatting, and it has a great price to boot. It looks great perched atop your laptop and is easy to adjust as you power your machine off and on. Another bonus: The system requirements are not as demanding as they are for 1080p-compatible Webcams, and the 720p capture makes for a pleasant video chatting experience.