In this high definition era, where hardware from consoles to monitors and entertainment from games to films is in HD, one area that’s been consistently lagging behind has been the humble webcam. Partially, this is because of the limited Internet connection bandwidth to which many people are still subjected, and partially it's the fault of limited ‘chat’ software support. Mainly, though, it’s because many people just don’t care – especially since HD can highlight your less favourable features or those bags under your eyes. However, if you’re happy with how you look and are ready to go all-out HD, Microsoft’s LifeCam Cinema, which claims to offer smooth 720p video at up to 30fps, might be just the thing.
As the only HD-capable webcam Microsoft sells, theLifeCam Cinema (surely there needs to be an HD suffix in there?) sits at the top of the company’s range and thus demands top dollar – or in this case, pound. However, keeping in mind webcams are cheap as chips these days, it’s not surprising that this amounts to a very reasonable £45.
Once you manage to get it out of Microsoft’s fiddly-as-always packaging, the webcam itself is a neat little affair. It has a solid aluminium body - the only Microsoft webcam to do so - making it light weight yet durable. The silver ‘lip’ at the front is plastic but does extend outward a little to protect the lens. The camera is mounted on a ball-and-socket joint that can tilt forward and back approximately 60 degrees and rotate indefinitely (though the attached cable puts a practical limit on this).
It all rests on an improved version of the flexible rubberised foot found on the LifeCam VX5000 we looked at a while back. This system works quite well at providing a stable base in a variety of usage scenarios, and is as comfortable standing on your desk as clinging to the top of your monitor or a laptop’s LCD screen. A lengthy USB cable allows for plenty of reach and the excess is held in place with a solid plastic clip.
When it comes to installation, a multi-lingual quick-start guide gives clear instructions in several languages, though as usual it’s as simple as installing the driver first and then plugging in the device. As we would expect considering Microsoft manufactures the operating systems the LifeCam is compatible with, everything worked flawlessly.
Unlike many other webcam brands which provide third-party software to control your device, the LifeCam Cinema comes with its own custom application which is a tad basic but works well. The simplified home screen shows the usual footage window with Photo, Audio and Video capture buttons beneath it. Below these is a scrollable black bar that shows recorded shots or segments, while to the left is the traditional yellow folder for changing the default destination directory of these.