updated 02:30 pm EST, Mon December 29, 2008
First Look: LifeCam Show
If you have one of the more recent iMac or MacBook models, you have a built-in webcam, embedded like a third eye into the top of your monitor. If you have a Mac Pro or a Mac mini though, you'll need to buy a separate cam if you want to do video conferencing or chatting. Although designed specifically for Windows XP and Vista users, the Microsoft LifeCam Show is a webcam that also works flawlessly with any Mac. The most obvious difference between this one and others is its size.
Only 1.3 inches wide and 2.44 inches in height, the Show's small size makes it easy to carry or tuck out of the way. A magnet in the back of the unit gives you a choice of attaching to a clamp or a stand.
The clamp grips the top edge of any monitor, and lets you point the webcam directly towards your face while you sit in front of the screen. As an alternative, you can stick the webcam to the stand, which consists of a pole with a magnet at the top to hold the Show in place.
The stand lets you position the cam in a covenenient off-angle location on your desk. It isn't adjustable however, so the Show always remains at a fixed height -- 11 inches -- over a tabletop's surface. The most you can do is adjust the Show's tilt slightly, whether to aim higher or lower.
A more serious problem is the USB cable that plugs into your Mac. The cable is slightly longer than 34 inches; this is sufficient if your Mac is sitting on a desk, but if it's on the floor, the cord may be too short to reach a comfortable height at the top of your monitor or the included stand.
The Show sports a two-megapixel resolution, sharp enough for ordinary video chat through apps like iChat or Skype. It can autofocus at a range between 21 and 60 inches, and captures images within a 71 degree angle, which ensures that you won't get cut out of a video just by moving to one side. Better still is its unidirectional microphone, which captures crisp audio from all directions and distances.
Despite lacking specific Mac drivers, Mac OS X Leopard recognizes the Show right away. You only have go through the System Preferences window to direct audio from the Show's microphone, and then select the device in whatever application is using it.
For $99.95, the LifeCam Show packs an impressive camera and microphone into a minuscule package. While you may prefer a webcam designed specifically to work with Mac OS X, you'll find the LifeCam Show works well with any Mac that lacks a built-in camera.