Product Survey: Webcams
We test Webcams in various situations: during the day with good lighting to see how they fare in optimal conditions, and at night under poor lighting.
We also test additional functions like the zoom, Face Tracking, and the microphone, (whether its external or integrated).
A series of test cards helps us to determine a webcam's capacity to distinguish color nuances (particularly in flesh tones) and its sharpness.
Finally, we check its default configuration for settings such as contrast and brightness to see if better results can be achieved with manual configuration.
Once seen as a powerful application for professionals, videoconferencing is now within reach of the majority of computer users thanks to the widespread popularity of USB webcams. Our Product Survey looks at which will really help bring you closer to your contacts and buddies.
There's still a clear market leader in the world of webcams--Logitech--though its competitors are continuing to gain ground.
With more and more people enjoying fast broadband connections, the popularity of videoconferencing continues to grow and there are now several manufacturers eager to get a bite of a market that includes, for instance, the 14.5 million users on Microsoft's Messenger network alone.
How much should you pay?
There are plenty of webcams out there that cost less than $20, but you really don't get a lot for your money at that price point.
Your contacts will barely be able to figure out who you are, and should be able to hear you, but moving up to around $25 can make all the difference.
Movements will appear more fluid, ghosting will be less apparent and you'll have access to functions.
Creative, for example, includes software to use your webcam as a surveillance camera, for instance while Hercules has cameras that are preconfigured to allow you to upload your content straight to YouTube.
Beyond $60, you move into the world of high-end webcams, and the quality of both audio and video really climbs.
Another big advantage with these more costly models is that they often include an autofocus system-- feature so useful that we've decided to make it a pre-requisite for achieving five stars.
Without this system, other webcams have to make do with a manual focus controlled by turning a ring around the lens.