Review: Microsoft LifeCam Cinema

Microsoft brings webcams into HD in earnest. (September 20th, 2009)

Microsoft is no stranger to the webcam business, and its latest offering shows why the company is still often at the forefront. The LifeCam Cinema is the first consumer webcam to offer both a 16:9 aspect ratio and a native 720p imaging sensor. With a modest retail price of only $80 and some impressive image quality claims, is the LifeCam Cinema a webcam best buy or simply a marketing point?

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Product Manufacturer: Microsoft

Price: $80

The Good

  • Great video quality with the 720p sensor.
  • Excellent ergonomic design.
  • Simple, effective software package.

The Bad

  • Poor still photo quality.

The LifeCam Cinema comes out of the box with only a creatively designed user manual and the webcam itself. We immediately noticed the construction quality of the webcam was top-notch. The USB cable is very long and has a helpful built-in cable organizer. The top of the webcam contains the microphone as well as a small button that opens Windows Live Messenger.

Microsoft clearly put some thought into the design of the LifeCam Cinema. The rubberized, flexible base that attaches the LifeCam to displays and notebooks works extremely well, and the adjustable angles that the lens can accommodate make the camera very easy to position.

features and audio/video quality

We started testing the webcam by simply taking still shots, videos, and audio-only samples. We were consistently impressed with the audio and video quality of the LifeCam Cinema. Audio was consistently crisp during a variety of recording tests ranging from music, TV, to spoken voice. To test image quality we took a still shot of some our audio and video collection in the office. In an unusual twist, still image quality paled in comparison to the full-motion video quality, which of course occurs at 30 frames per second in 720p resolution; there were noticeable compression artifacts in individual captured frames where full video hid most of the flaws.

software and user experience

Installation and setup of the LifeCam Cinema was simple. After installing the CD and plugging the webcam in, we were ready to go. The software is very minimalist and extremely easy to use. In a rare move from Microsoft, users are greeted with a pleasant user interface that is surprisingly bloat-free. We found that the special effects and features worked well, too. Whether users want to add a hat to someone's head or make them look like they're in front of a fun-house mirror, the software has the support for it.

There are only three main functions to the software and they simply let users record still shots, audio, and video. Once a clip is saved it appears in a timeline below where it can be deleted or exported to an editing program or to e-mail. The settings menu allows users to change resolutions and color and focus settings, but we found setting adjustments to be unneeded. The autofocus works as promised on the LifeCam Cinema, and the lag time between refocuses is very small.

A word on operating system support: officially, the LifeCam Cinema is meant for Windows and will only see its full feature set there. However, as a generic USB video device it should also work on Macs. wrapping up

It's hard to dispute the LifeCam Cinema as a great webcam offering from Microsoft, at least in its intended video role, the company has combined excellent moving image quality with a well-designed hardware concept; the only caveat is photo quality, which thankfully isn't the focus of these products. At its price, we would consider this webcam to be a bargain.

by Kelcey Lehrich


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