Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Microsoft Lifecam NX-3000
- Good sound quality, sleek and functional design, affordable price
- Below average in dim lighting, certain features only work with Windows Live Messenger
The Lifecam NX-3000 performs its primary function -- and little else -- to middling effect. If your notebook is already equipped with an inbuilt camera there's very little reason to consider this purchase.
Price$ 59.95 (AUD)
These days, a webcam needs to be pretty damn special if it hopes to find permanent residence on your notebook. After all, most portable computers now come equipped with inbuilt cameras of their own, rendering most webcam peripherals completely superfluous. So what does Microsoft's Lifecam NX-3000 offer to make it worthy of your hard-earned cash? Apart from an injection of 'added integration' for specific Microsoft applications, we're afraid the answer is next to nothing.
In stark contrast to the bloated, feature-logged LifeCam VX-7000 , the NX-3000 is a fairly basic webcam that keeps the bells and whistles to a minimum. On the basis of these two offerings, it would seem that Microsoft has a Jekyll-and-Hyde attitude when it comes to balancing its products, but we won't hold that against them.
Setting up the device is a relatively straightforward process; involving the installation of the Lifecam software and -- in the unlikely event that it isn't already installed -- Windows Live Messenger. The webcam connects to your computer via USB, with a spring-loaded clip specifically designed for notebook lids. The head of the cigar-shaped device can also be swivelled through 45 degrees to achieve an optimum angle. All up, we have very few qualms about the design of this webcam, which is small, stylish and functional. Our only reservation concerns the oversized video call button, which we frequently pressed without intention while repositioning the device.
In terms of video quality, the NX-3000 performed averagely for a webcam in this price range. The 1.3-megapixel sensor can capture video up to a resolution of 640x480. It can also be used to capture still images at 1280x960 pixels. While this is below other models we've looked at recently, such as the QuickCam Pro for Notebooks, it should be noted that the NX-3000 is slightly cheaper. Colours remained sharp and accurate in bright environments, but degraded quickly in dim lighting, with noise quickly coming to the fore.
Diving into the Lifecam software uncovers a variety of sliders for picture optimisation; offering marginal improvements when tweaked. (The program also allows you to capture video, audio or picture stills and then send your recordings via e-mail.) Basically, while the NX-3000 provides decent enough video, most in-built notebook cams will be able to match it in the quality stakes, which doesn't exactly make it essential.
On the plus side, we were quite impressed by the noise-cancelling microphone, which filtered out background noise with considerable success. The assortment of fancy video effects will also provide a tickle for people who like that sort of thing.
While the NX-3000 is compatible with most instant-messaging programs, Microsoft would naturally prefer you to use its Windows Live service. As such, several tools and features are tailor-made exclusively for Live users, such as the dedicated call button and photo-swap options. This renders the NX-3000 a lot less desirable if you happen to prefer a different IM application.
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