|Microsoft LifeCam Cinema 720p HD-Webcam|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: WebCam | Camera|
|Written by Hank Tolman|
|Tuesday, 19 January 2010|
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Microsoft LifeCam Software
The Microsoft LifeCam Software installs much like any other program, with a little bit of a catch. Microsoft throws a little present in there in the form of a Windows Live Essentials download. So if you don't already have Windows Live Essentials, which includes Windows Live Call, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Movie Maker, Windows Live Photo Gallery, and Windows Live Writer. Even if you already have the non-Live versions of these programs installed (which is likely if you are running Windows Vista or 7), you will get the Live versions from this install. This isn't really a big deal if you already use Messenger or Windows Live in any sort of a capacity. And if you don't, then you can skip the download and installation. Just make sure you are quick, as it can sneak up on you in a hurry and you will have all these extra programs before you know it!
During the installation of the LifeCam Software, Microsoft makes sure to give you some tips for using the LifeCam for various functions. I didn't pay much attention to them during the install, but now I wish I would have. Those first two avoids on the list below are key to maintaining good audio and video quality, whether it be for recorded video or a video call. The LifeCam Cinema is excellent at picking up small sources of light and adjusting accordingly, but if your light is behind you it will drown out picture somewhat. Especially if the light is a lamp or other type of light with a small bulb that doesn't illuminate the entire room. Room lighting is easily adjusted for.
Also, while the microphone on the LifeCam Cinema is very good, and even adjust for noise cancellation, that noise cancellation can be troublesome. If you have any semi-loud background noises, such as a loud PSU or system fan, the microphone will pick up on that noise and try to cancel it. It actually does a great job at canceling the noise, but for some reason, it replaces it will a high pitched squeal. The squeal isn't overly loud or obnoxious, but it is annoying. It exponentially less distinguishable when you ensure that you have no background noise. Also, when using the webcam in Linux, the squeal isn't there. This is probably because the drivers are generic webcam drivers and they don't utilize the noise cancellation feature. You can't get to 720p in Linux either, unless you have a program you can force to go that high.
In the instruction manual, and during the install, Microsoft asks that you don't plug the LifeCam Cinema into your computer before installing the drivers. It will cue you at some point during the installation, and you won't be able to continue until you plug in the device. I did try, however, just plugging the device in, before installing the software on my HTPC. It is running Windows 7 Home Premium. The LifeCam Cinema installed perfectly as a plug and play device and I automatically recieved an option to download the latest Microsoft LifeCam Software and Windows Live Essentials. I declined, then removed the hardware completely and reinstalled it the way the manual suggests.
Pictured above is the Microsoft LifeCam Software. It provides you with the ability to take still photographs, record audio, and record video. The settings tab allows you to choose a webcam, even though I believe it will only allow you to select a LifeCam product. With the Philips SPC710NC also installed I was unable to choose it from the drop down menu, even though other programs did let me select it. Here you can also select the microphone volume and pick a resolution. There are a wide range of resolution options for the LifeCam Cinema, they are 160x120, 320x240, 424x240, 640x360, 800x448, 960x544, and 1280x720 HD. The settings tab also lets you adjust brightness, gamma, and color levels, as well as set the frequency to that of your monitor to reduce flicker.
By clicking the stars, the settings page is replaced with an effects page. Both of these pages can be closed by clicking the arrow next to the capture image. The effects aren't anything extraordinary, but they were a lot of fun to play around with. My daughter found them to be quite hilarious when she herself on the TV with silly hair, a cat face, or wearing a cowboy hat. There are a lot of distortions and add-ons, which really take advantage of the LifeCam Cinema's impressive ability to find and pick out a face. Even with multiple faces in the picture, unless I was turned sideways, the LifeCam Cinema was nearly always able to pick out my face. This is a plus for the autofocus feature as well as the effects.