Windows to the World

For a small investment, a webcam can help you improve employee communications, reach a larger potential audience and enhance your marketing. We help you find the webcam that’s right for you.

In today’s web-connected world, having a webcam to enhance your online communications is becoming a must. Some laptops have these little cameras already installed on the machine, but the majority of computer owners will have to purchase one. You will find it well worth the cost as it opens up new ways to communicate with family and offers you the ability to take part in certain business activities like video conferencing.

Begin the selection process by defining your needs. Why are you buying a webcam? Is it for business or personal use? Will it be used occasionally or are you planning to spend a lot of time on screen? Directly related to that is how much you are willing to spend on the device. You can get a simple webcam for less than $20 and you can pay over $100 for something far more advanced. It all depends on what you want.

We like sharp, clear images and fluid video. Built in microphones are nice, the sound quality is generally good, but the best audio is still to be found with dedicated mics and headsets. That said, here are our picks:

Microsoft Lifecam VX-5000 $49.95

This solid, mid-priced workhorse offers great image quality and does very well in low light situations with its VGA optics and 1.3 megapixel sensor. The unit has a 3x digital zoom; constant focus, pan and tilt, a built-in microphone, and a flexible rubber base that gives the unit stable footing. The software that comes with the camera—the usual drivers and utilities—is not particularly inspiring but it does offer features such as special still and video effects, one-touch blogging and photo swap. The unit is optimized to work with Windows Live Messenger, but also works with AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Microsoft Office Communicator, Skype and others. The dimensions of the unit are (W x D x H): 1.8 in x 1.8 in x 4 in; weight: 3.4 oz; and there is a three year warranty from Microsoft. For more information, visit www.microsoft.com

Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 $99.00

On the higher end of the webcam price spectrum, the QuickCam Pro 9000 features a true two-megapixel sensor behind glass optics designed for Logitech by Carl Zeiss®. This gives the webcam razor-sharp images that stay sharp even in close-ups and high-definition video that looks great even at 960x720 pixels. Throw in the unit’s intelligent face tracking and wide field of vision and you can be sure to remain comfortably in-frame. Logitech’s RightLight™2 Technology adjusts the image to produce the best possible picture quality in dim or poorly backlighted settings while their RightSound™ Technology works with the built-in microphone to eliminate echo and background noise.

The camera supports Windows Live Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Skype and others. For more information, visit www.logitech.com

HP Elite Autofocus Webcam $74.99

The HP Elite Autofocus Webcam offers a sharp picture driven by a 3-megapixel sensor, high-definition video quality, and even sharper still photos. Tilt and pan adjustments allow you to show what you want your audience to see while the clip keeps the camera securely attached to your monitor. A single button launches your preferred instant messaging program—the unit works with AOL Instant Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, Skype, or Yahoo Messenger—and lets you access the webcam’s controls. The camera is built for broadband, offering a 30-frames/second speed for smooth, fluid video. With the included ArcSoft VideoImpression and ArcSoft WebCam Companion software you can capture, edit and share short videos and the unit’s HP Photosmart Essential software allows you to edit photos. The webcam comes with a one-year limited warranty and technical assistance is available at www.hp.com/go/totalcare

Phillips Webcam Easy $20.99

Here is a product that lives up to its name. This low-cost plug & play webcam allows you to quickly and easily enjoy free video chatting via Skype, Windows Live Messenger or other instant messaging services. It has a 1.3-megapixel sensor for enhanced image quality and works at 30-frames/second for smooth, lifelike motion. The camera has a low-light enhancement mode, which improves the picture brightness when working in low-light conditions while the camera’s easy-to-rotate body lets you aim the camera wherever you want. Just twist the camera in any direction to shoot anywhere in your room without moving the webcam at all. The unit dimensions are (DxHxW) 2.9 in. x 4.9 in x 1.3 in; weight: 2.9 oz. For more information, visit www.philips.co.uk

One final piece of advice: Before you purchase a camera, make sure that you know that the camera will work with your computer system. Are you running the correct operating system for your camera, do you have enough RAM, a CD-ROM drive to load the necessary software? If your system doesn’t measure up to the needs of the camera, it may not work correctly, or at all, so read the fine print and buy accordingly. —Charles Cooper

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