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Of course ergonomics aren't everything. As usual, you should install the relevant software before hooking the VX5000 up to your PC - in this case Microsoft LifeCam, which works with its entire range of webcams. Setup is a breeze. You can spend some time adjusting the settings for optimum image quality, though you can change settings like sharpness, hue and white balance at any time. Once everything's configured, the software's interface is quite stylish and very intuitive, albeit rather basic. Aside from the dashboard, which is switched off by default, there are only four 'buttons'. The first three start/stop video capture or audio recording, and take still pictures. The last one lets you access the folder where these files are stored, which seems to be set to a fixed location; I've no trouble with Microsoft making things simple, but not being able to change this folder's location is going a bit far.
Things are similarly limited with the photo-capturing system. After snapping a still you get to see a preview thumbnail which you can edit (sending it to your default photo editor), attach it to an email, or upload it to Windows Live Spaces. But the experience is hindered rather than helped by the extremely simplified interface: for example, an arrow button to switch between shots would have been nice, as would a delete button.
The dashboard, meanwhile, gives you access to the settings and adjustments in one tab, and various 'effects' in the other. The effects are purely a gimmick, but might be entertaining for a while. There's everything from animations of electricity jumping across the screen, to footballs bouncing around. You can have a bee buzzing around some flowers in the corner, or go around calling contacts with the rain animation turned on and singing at them. There's a lot of choice, but I can't help thinking Microsoft could have done a slightly better job on the generally poor artwork and cheap animation, quite aside from the lack of flexibility and options in its LifeCam software overall.
Naturally, the single most important aspect of a webcam is its image quality, and here the 1.3-megapixel VX5000 holds up well enough. Considering its affordable price and maximum 640 x 480 video resolution (it can capture stills at 1280x960), images are quite sharp and show a fair amount of detail. The camera displays some slight lag with fast motion, but little to no blurring.
One small detail worth pointing out is that if your environment uses fluorescent lighting, there will be some slight flicker over your face, though it's much reduced when running the camera at 50 rather than 60Hz. This is not a fault with the LifeCam, but rather an effect of those nasty fluorescent tubes which, imperceptibly to many people's eyes, flicker all the time. The webcam's lowlight performance is adequate, though motion becomes slightly more blurry and there's some detail loss due to the automatic exposure levels being too high.
The inbuilt unidirectional microphone also does a fair job, though even at its most sensitive setting you don't want to move too far away since it has some difficulty picking up quiet sounds. A few final hardware details include a button on top of the webcam - which is far too easy to press accidentally while adjusting - that brings up Messenger contacts to video call with. Cable length is a generous 1.82m, so it should be able to reach no matter where your computer.
The fact that the word 'fun' is mentioned several times on the Microsoft LifeCam VX5000's specifications page should tell you all you need to know. This is a light, compact and easy to use webcam which doesn't go beyond the basics, but does those well. It's a shame that the cheap bundled software is aimed at 12-year olds.
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