Like Logitech's QuickCam Pro 9000, the £45 Microsoft LifeCam VX-7000 features a 2-megapixel sensor, but if you use any resolution above 640x480 pixels, the resulting video is choppy. And at lower resolutions, in low or even moderate light, the video becomes very grainy. Simply put, there are better webcams out there than the LifeCam VX-7000.
Installing the LifeCam VX-7000 is a simple, three-step process. Install the LifeCam software, install Windows Live Messenger, then connect the webcam via USB.
The webcam itself is very compact at 69 by 26mm, and the sturdy, two-hinged stand works equally well on a desk, an LCD monitor or a laptop lid. The rubberised contact points mean the webcam isn't easily dislodged, but the upper hinge that connects the stand to the camera offers a small range of adjustment.
The LifeCam app is sparse. Along the top are three buttons for snapping a photo, recording an audio clip and recording video. Along the bottom, your most recent recording -- photo, audio or video -- is listed as a thumbnail in the bottom-left corner of the window. More useful would be highlighting the last few videos or photos as with Logitech's QuickCam app.
A button in the lower-right corner lets you email the last clip or photo recorded, but the service doesn't support Web-based email, including Hotmail. Even if you sign up with a corporate a school email account, you're forced to tell the LifeCam software what type of mail server you use -- POP or IMAP -- and the name of the incoming and outgoing mail servers.
Microsoft, why include this button if we're forced to play 20 questions? The help file suggests we contact our ISP to track down this necessary information to email a webcam video clip or photo. Really, we'll just go ahead and attach the file ourselves.
If the last item you've recorded using the LifeCam software is a photo, the button next to the ill-conceived email button lets you upload a photo to your Live Spaces page, should you have one. It's simple to do, but then again, uploading a photo any blog service is just as easy. And it'd be more useful to list more than just the last clip or photo recorded as is done with Logitech QuickCam app. A third button in the lower-right corner opens up the LifeCam Files folder, where all of your clips and photos are stored.
The LifeCam VX-7000 is optimised for use with Microsoft's instant-messaging service. A button on the top of the webcam calls up Windows Live Messenger, but not while you have the LifeCam app running. The Photo Swap feature lets you send photos while video chatting in Live Messenger, which is a cool feature for sharing photos and really the only feature we found useful in the software.
Even the goofy video effects that come bundled can't compare with what you get from Logitech or Creative. Without any face tracking feature, for example, you don't get to play around with 3D avatars. And even the scenic overlays are lame compared with the video effects available with Creative's and Logitech's webcams.
Although Microsoft would really like it if you used the camera with its own IM client, the LifeCam VX-7000 works with other IM clients that support video conferencing, including Skype. Video quality on Skype was indistinguishable to that using either of the laptop webcams from Creative or Logitech -- not great but more than passable with decent colour levels and relatively smooth movement. The same can be said for audio. When seated at the proper distance from the webcam's microphone, the LifeCam VX-7000's delivers clean sound.
The camera's 2-megapixel sensor struggled when recording video at any of the four available settings above 640x480 pixels -- 800x600 pixels, 1,024x769 pixels, 1.3 megapixel (1,280x1,024 pixels), or 2.0 megapixel (1,600x1,200 pixels). The higher the resolution we used, the choppier the video became. Only at 640x480 did we see smooth movement, but at this resolution (and lower) the image was beset with digital noise. And we were testing the camera in the afternoon on a sunny day in a room with many windows and the lights on.
The situation got worse when the sun went down. Microsoft doesn't have anything akin to Logitech's RightLight technology, which produces a clean, balanced, well-lit image in all lighting scenarios, including a dimly lit room. Digital noise mars the video of the LifeCam VX-7000 in most lighting situations.
The LifeCam software gives sliders for adjusting brightness, contrast and hue, for example, but there's no option to have the software optimise the image given current lighting conditions. You're forced to tweak the settings manually or return to the default setting. There are boxes next to each for Auto, but all are grayed out, save the box for white balance, which didn't seem to do anything anyway.
It seems sloppy on Microsoft's part to litter the QuickCam settings windows with Auto check boxes that you are unable to check. There are 16 Auto check boxes, only one of which (white balance) you can actually check. No amount of adjusting corrected the flaws previous described.
Only regular users of Windows Live Messenger or Live Spaces bloggers should consider the Microsoft LifeCam VX-7000, and even then, we'd recommend Microsoft's cheaper laptop webcam, the .
At its list price of £45, the LifeCam VX-7000 cannot compete with Logitech's excellent £60 webcam, the . The Logitech camera boasts far superior image quality, and Logitech's QuickCam software offers more functionality and a better interface.
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday