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Editors' note: Check out CNET's HD Webcam shoot-out: 720p Webcams compared for a head-to-head look at newer and more affordable HD webcams.
The Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 is nearly identical to the QuickCam Pro for Notebooks Webcam, except for the fact that it's a better fit for laptops. This $99 desktop Webcam is larger than its laptop sibling, but its flexible, two-hinged stand works equally well resting directly on your desk or atop your desktop's LCD or your laptop's screen. As was the case with the laptop Webcams I reviewed last month, the QuickCam Pro 9000 delivers better image quality than competing desktop Webcams from Creative and Microsoft. Logitech's RightLight technology provides a well-balanced, vibrant, and clear image--even in low light. While Creative's Live Cam software has more features, unless motion capture surveillance or time-lapse Webcam photography interest you, you're better off with the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000. With its easy-to-use software, stellar image quality, and sturdy, flexible stand, it earns our Editors' Choice award.
Installation is straightforward. Install the bundled QuickCam software and then plug in the Webcam. An audio-tuning wizard lets you optimize the volume for audio input (microphone) and out (speakers). You can adjust sliders for brightness, contrast, color intensity, and white balance, but I found the best results by enabling RightLight and leaving it at that. I found many complaints online about installation hiccups, particularly with Window XP machines, but I experienced no trouble installing the QuickCam software and drivers on either Vista or XP. I did have trouble when I installed the beta 11.5 drivers in an effort to test out the High Quality Video announcement that Logitech and Skype announced last week (more on that later), but the QuickCam 11.0 software that came on the bundled CD presented no such difficulties. Also, be sure to close out of the QuickCam software when using the Webcam to video conference with a program like Skype. I had a conversation repeatedly come to an abrupt end until I noticed the tiny QuickCam icon staring at me from my PC's system tray and closed it.
My only complaint with Logitech's laptop Webcam I reviewed last week was its awkward clip and vertical orientation, which, taken together, resulted in the camera drooping forward or leaning to one side somewhat regularly. No such problems with the QuickCam Pro 9000. The camera is oriented horizontally, with the lens to the left and the mic on the right. The two-hinged stand can be maneuvered to stand up on top of a desk or so that the camera sits on top of a narrow LCD. A rubber mat covers each potential contact point, meaning that the Webcam will rest firmly in place in a variety of positions. And the stand is made of thick, heavy plastic, which provides enough counterweight to keep the Webcam from being easily jostled.
In testing, the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000's image quality was superior to that of the Creative Live Cam Optia AF and the Microsoft LifeCam VX-7000 under any scenario--bright artificial light, low light, or natural light. Particularly in a dimly lit room with a dark desktop background, the QuickCam Pro 9000 was able to lighten the image to that shadows were removed from your face but not to the point of overexposing the image. In addition to using a Carl Zeiss lens, the QuickCam Pro 9000 features Logitech's RightLight 2 technology, which I found to be far better at automatically adjusting the image than anything you get from Creative or Microsoft. Like the other two desktop Webcams, the QuickCam Pro 9000 features a 2-megapixel sensor. It can record video up to a resolution of 1,600x1,200 and can snap still photos up to 8-megapixels (keep in mind, anything above 2-megapixels comes by way of software interpolation, which degrades quality).
The QuickCam Pro 9000 doesn't put AF into its model name like Creative's Live Cam Optia AF, but it does have an auto-focus feature. It's slow to react when recording video at any of the available HD resolutions (960x720 and up), but does a reasonable job of keeping your talking head in focus. The microphone does an acceptable job of picking up audio; just be sure you're not sitting to close to the Webcam.
The bundled QuickCam software features a pleasing interface and is very easy to navigate. Large buttons are provided for recording video or snapping a picture, and changing the resolution of each is dead simple. Your recorded videos and photos are listed as thumbnails at the bottom of the QuickCam window. Videos are recorded as WMV files and played back using Windows Media Player. Logitech's face-tracking features mean you get an assortment of 3D avatars and other video effects, which are fun if you want to surprise your friends with a video call from a shark or a reptile or a wild-and-crazy guy with an arrow through his head. While Macs will recognize this plug-and-play USB device (not tested), you'll be left without the services of the video (RightLight 2) and audio (RightSound) optimization apps as well as the video effects and filters.
Logitech doesn't bundle a video-messaging app, but it works with all the popular IM clients, including those from AOL, Windows, and Yahoo, plus Skype, which I used for testing. As I was testing the QuickCam Pro 9000 last week, Logitech and Skype announced a partnership to bring 640x480, 30-frame-per-second video to Skype calls. Three QuickCams were mentioned in the release, including the Pro 9000. Unfortunately, the updated version of Skype (3.6) necessary for high-quality video calls is still not available for download, so I was unable to test this feature.
Logitech backs the QuickCam Pro 9000 with a two-year warranty.