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Webcams aren’t really a headline grabbing technology and as such most people will probably not have noticed that they have in fact been getting steadily better. They are easier than ever to use with technology such noise filtering on microphones and face making for a more natural usage experience. A couple of years ago you’d be hard pushed to find a camera with a native resolution of more than 640 x 480 – but this Logitech Webcam Vision Ultra offers up (nearly ) 1.3 million pixels - 1,280 x 960 natively.
The QuickCam Ultra Vision is at the posh end of the market, with an RRP of £99, though you can pick it up online for just over £60. At least you’ll feel like you’re getting something for your money – it’s a large chunky affair that feels solid and very well made. However, its size means that it’s not really suitable for use with laptop displays.
The design is actually very impressive. The webcam itself is cylindrical but the camera is mounted inside the barrel rather than at the end as Apple’s iSight was. The edges taper in towards the centre and it’s slightly fatter on the side with the lens. The lens can be rotated up and down to get the right angle, which is easier than having to move the whole thing, as is the case with most webcams.
On the other side to the lens is a Logitech logo with a circular light that flashes blue when the camera is active. The grip on the rear is essentially just a large piece of bendy rubber, but it works surprisingly well, with the USB cable coming out at the centre. On each side there’s a button – one side takes a picture at the selected resolution, while the other launches a video preview screen, with an option to then launch the IM software of your choice depending on what you have installed.
Logitech makes much of the fact that this is an ‘HD’ capable camera – and it has a 960 x 720 preset at which you can record video of yourself though the video only records at 15 frames per second. However, you can only go up to 640 x 480 for actual video conversations.
In a world where numbers on boxes help sell said boxes, Logitech obviously felt it important to give us photo resolution up to 4-megapixels despite the 1.3-megapixel native resolution. In fact, there are presets for two, three and four megapixels, though this is all done by software interpolation. It all seems rather pointless to me. The only reason I can think you’d want a larger image is so you can print a larger picture – but wouldn’t you just use a ‘real’ digital camera for that? The very lowest setting of 320 x 240 is rather more sensible and indeed is labelled ‘email’, so you can video at a size that’s practical to send via t’internet.