Microsoft announced two new additions to its Webcam lineup on Tuesday, the LifeCam VX-5500 and the LifeCam Show.
Take the LifeCam VX-5000, replace its Gumby-like rubber tail with a square plastic base, throw in some new 3D video effects and interchangeable faceplates, and you've got the LifeCam VX-5500. The camera body and optics remain the same as the previous model, which means the video quality remains very good, particularly for such an inexpensive Webcam.
The new 3D video effects include face tracking technology, so you can conduct video chats with a distorted head or while wearing a funny hat. You can also share video messages via a Vista Gadget, but you'll need to have a Vista PC and a LifeCam on both ends of the exchange. Maybe Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates exchange video messages this manner, but I doubt many others will find this feature all that useful.
While I liked the flexible yet sturdy Gumby stand on the previous model, the VX-5500's stand provides a solid base whether sitting on a desk or resting on the of a laptop or LCD. And for what it's worth, you can choose among three included faceplate--red, white, and blue.
My early tests with the VX-5500 reveal the same great performance as the VX-5000 that I reviewed earlier this year. Video at 640x480 looks smooth, and the image quality holds up well under low-light scenarios. Fast movement does cause some stuttering and blur, though the same can be said for all Webcams. Aside from the addition of the new 3D video effects, the LifeCam software remains largely unchanged and in need of an overhaul.
The VX-5500 will cost $60 when it starts shipping on September 25.
The pricier and smaller Microsoft LifeCam Show will cost $100 and go on sale starting October 9. It features a higher resolution sensor than the VX-5500. The 2-megapixel sensor can capture 800x600 video, 2-megapixel still shots, and--through software interpolation--8-megapixel stills.
The LifeCam Show ships with three attachment options. Most useful is the laptop clip, which has a round, magnetized button to hold the camera. If you want to make the LifeCam Show a regular part of your life, you can affix a sticker to the back of your laptop; the sticker has the same magnetized button to hold the camera. Finally, a desktop stand is included that lets you connect the LifeCam Show, via a magnet once again, to the top of a plastic pole.
It ships with the same LifeCam app as the VX-5500, which includes the new 3D video effects and video message feature.
The LifeCam Show offers improved image quality over the last laptop LifeCam that I reviewed, the LifeCam VX-7000. Particularly, the low light performance is improved, though I found that the video is not always smooth at 800x600.
Update: Read the review of the LifeCam VX-5500.