PRODUCT REVIEW

Microsoft Notebook Webcam a Solid Performer

Back in July, Microsoft released a dynamite Webcam, the LifeCam 6000, for desktop users. Now it’s following suit with an equally impressive version of the unit for notebook users.

The laptop model of the Webcam, the LifeCam NX-6000 (US$99), is about the size of a Pez dispenser, making it eminently totable.

The aluminum unit has a clip on the back so it can snuggle comfortably on the top of a laptop’s display.

When not in use, the end of the Webcam, where its lens is located, slides into the unit for protection.

Face-Tracking

The lens covers an area of 71 degrees, which is wide enough to get several people in a shot — a plus when catching up with relatives via a Webcam call.

The Webcam’s focus is optimized for 12 to 39 inches, so it’s pretty easy to stay in focus when using the camera.

Automatic face-tracking is designed into the unit. It keeps a subject’s face in the camera’s view, even when they’re moving. That feature doesn’t work, though, when the camera is capturing video at its best resolution.

An added measure of protection is provided by the hard case packaged with the Webcam.

7 MP Stills

The device will capture video at two megapixels and take still shots at 7.6 megapixels, which is the highest resolution for this type of camera that I know of.

Sound for the Webcam is provided by a built-in, unidirectional microphone with acoustic noise cancellation, which makes sure your voice is heard above any surrounding cacophony.

A handy feature on the Webcam is its Live Call button. It’s located on top of the Webcam where you can quickly press it and call up your “Buddys’ Picker.” There you can see who is online and make a video call to them — as long as they use Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger or Yahoo Messenger.

Microsoft Lock-In

Like its desktop brother, the NX-6000 is optimized to work with Microsoft’s Live Messenger service.

If you’re new to this stuff, then having a bundle of services handed to you by Microsoft can be convenient. There’s also the added bonus that since you’re dealing with Microsoft products from camera to Web services, there’s a good chance everything will work as it’s supposed to.

On the other hand, getting forced into the Microsoft ecosystem can be irritating if you’re already getting services from elsewhere on the Web. For example, if you use AOL Messenger as your instant-messaging client, Blogger.com as your blogging service and Picasa as your picture site … Well, you get my drift.

Software Installation

Before you connect the Webcam to your notebook, you must install its software.

Right off the bat, you’re given the choice of installing Windows Live Messenger or not.

If you choose to install Live Messenger, you won’t be able to continue with the installation of the Webcam until Messenger is installed.

After that installation, you’re given a menu of options. They let you assign shortcuts to the Webcam through your desktop and quick-launch bar and activate a sign-in assistant for use with Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Annoying Self-Promotion

These options are also a less than subtle way to drum up traffic for the Web sites and services of Microsoft and its partners.

For instance, one option is to make MSN Home your home page.

Another is to install the Windows Live Toolbar on IE. That includes a search function linked to Windows Live Search and away from more popular search sites like Google.

Then there’s an option to subscribe to the Rhapsody music service.

This kind of shameless promotion isn’t anything new among hardware makers, but it is nonetheless annoying to some of us.

After finishing with the options, you can connect the Webcam. That activates a “wizard” that helps you configure the hardware properly.

The LiveCam NX-6000 delivers excellent resolution in both video and image modes. For notebook owners looking to liven up their Web communications with video, this Webcam is a solid hardware offering.


John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at reviews@jpmello.com.


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