What's the best webcam for you? Despite laptops having built-in webcams these days, desktop PCs don't have this luxury.
So, if you want to buy the best webcam for video calling using Skype or Google Talk, look no further - we've rounded up five of the best HD webcams to find out which one has the best set of features including sound and image quality.
And, what's more, they're not as expensive as you'd think.
1. Genius eFace 1325R - £23
The Genius eFace 1325R doesn't feel like the most robustly built webcam, with a rather lightweight feel to it. It has been designed to fold flat to easily carry about and due to this design it makes setting up the camera slightly tricky: the webcam's base isn't heavy enough to hold the camera still, though clipping it to a monitor works fine.
The image quality is good, though on the default settings the colours are a little washed out. The eFace 1325R does come with a plethora of settings to improve the image quality, and we discovered that clearing the 'Auto' option next to 'White Balance' gave a much more natural colour to the image.
The eFace 1325R comes with CrazyTalk CamSuite Pro, which provides a few fun features for editing your webcam, including some very basic augmented reality effects. Most of them look pretty awful, and the Avatar Live function – that turns your face into a talking animal or ventriloquist's dummy - is just plain creepy. Oddly it makes the eFace 1325R video quality look awful, whereas when we tried it on an instant messaging program the quality was fine.
2. Logitech HD Webcam C270 - £18
The Logitech HD Webcam C270 might have a budget price, but it certainly doesn't have budget performance. The video footage is bright and clear, with the 720p resolution picking up most details well.
The images aren't perfect, and fine lines in particular come out as jagged, but this isn't going to be too much of an issue when the image is confined to a small panel while instant messaging. The refresh of the camera is very good, with hardly any of the lag that can sometimes make video chats so disconcerting.
Even though the microphone is only small, the sound quality is very good, though it is a bit on the quiet side. Leaning in to speak results in a clear sound with no distortion, but it's not the most comfortable of positions.
The Logitech comes with some decent calibration software, including the ability to pan and zoom. As you'd expect from a camera of this price the zoom is digital rather than optical, so there is some obvious loss of image quality. This is a great value offering all the same.
3. Microsoft Lifecam HD-3000 - £18
The Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 is a small yet powerful webcam that sits unobtrusively on top of your monitor or laptop screen. Not only does the 720p video feed look fantastic, the camera also captures widescreen footage. The wider viewing space is great if you're with a group of people who want to appear in shot.
The video quality, as a whole, is fantastic, with even minor details reproduced brilliantly. The colours are very natural, especially skin tones, and the quality is maintained even in low-light.
Microsoft's proprietary TrueColor technology only makes the slightest difference however; the lens in this webcam handles colours well without any software enhancements.
The microphone is excellent at picking up voices from a distance, though we found that sound quality wasn't as good as the Logitech HD.
The excellent video quality does make up for this, but if you want a webcam to double up as a microphone for voice calling and recording, then the LifeCam HD-3000 might not be enough.
4. Microsoft Lifecam Studio - £53
Where the LifeCam HD-3000 is a rather sleek and nimble webcam (well, as sleek and nimble as Microsoft's designers are capable of) the Microsoft LifeCam Studio is a bit of a monstrosity. It looks more like CCTV camera perched in a crime-riddled alleyway than a webcam placed on your monitor.
But don't let the looks put you off – this is an excellent camera capable of some truly fantastic video footage. The Microsoft LifeCam Studio can capture 1080p widescreen footage and comes with autofocus for excellent video quality. Be warned though: if you are running the video at full 1080p HD with augmented reality effects turned on, the CPU usage of your PC spikes and the frame rate of the video drops.
For video chat, unless both you and your contacts have a fast internet connection and no data cap, broadcasting at full HD is out of the question. For video blogging and uploading to YouTube however, the LifeCam Studio is a must buy.
5. Novo Minoru 3D - £24
This isn't a device that is going to deliver a life-like holographic avatar of a far-fl ung friend into your home, but it is a bit of throwaway fun. The Minoru 3D webcam's calibration is straight forward, with a tweaking guide for getting an adequate 3D image from both of the Minoru's two cameras.
The image is displayed via red and cyan anaglyph 3D, so you and the person you're talking to only need a pair of cheap cardboard glasses to view. Thankfully, the camera is also compatible with more advanced 3D technology, such as Nvidia 3D Vision.
The two cameras of the Minoru can also be used to produce picture-in-picture footage, so you can hold up objects to one camera while talking to the other.
In 2D mode, the video quality is passable, but not as sharp or detailed as the other webcams, with colours looking washed out. However, 3D is this webcam's gimmick and if 3D doesn't interest you then there's nothing to see here.
First published in PC Format Issue 256
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