Complementing our recent round-up of Webcams is Logitech's range-topping, AU$249.95 QuickCam Ultra Vision.
With its chrome rings, two-tone colour scheme and pinched cylindrical shape, it looks the part. Like the AU$179.95 QuickCam Fusion and AU$149.95 QuickCam Pro 5000, the Ultra Vision features a bendable U-shaped tail that allows it to be positioned, with a little balancing, on any monitor, be it LCD or CRT. An unmarked button resides on both ends of the Webcam. With the camera on, pressing one captures a photo and pressing the other provides a mirror image from the camera. Both, however, are of marginal use. Without a retractable cover for its lens, the Ultra Vision is best suited for desktops and home-bound laptops. Its tail also makes it bulky and awkward to pack in a laptop bag.
Installing the Ultra Vision is a snap. Plug it into your computer via its two metre USB cable, place the camera atop your monitor, slip the CD in, install the software and you're away. The supplied QuickCam software allows you to capture photos, record video, launch or download supported applications, and adjust camera settings.
Photos can be captured in a variety of sizes ranging from "e-mail-size" (320x240) to 4-megapixel (2304x1728). Bear in mind that anything beyond the camera's native 1.3 megapixels is interpolated. The Ultra Vision's photos, while acceptable for spur-of-the-moment e-mails, are no match for a cheap point-and-shoot camera, with a noticeable number of digital artefacts and a distinct lack of detail.
Video can be recorded in three resolutions ranging from "e-mail-size" to "HD" -- although it's a bit of stretch calling the Ultra Vision's 960x720 video HD. Video is reasonably smooth in "e-mail-size" and VGA (640x480) but becomes noticeably less fluid in "HD". At all resolutions, artefacts are visible, and more vigorous movement -- for example, spinning an object from hand to hand -- is captured jerkily.
By default, the camera adjusts its exposure, gain and spot metering settings automatically. In the end, we elected to set these manually because any movement which unveiled a light source would cause the camera to overcompensate and make the subject's face dark and underexposed.
A number of extras are included with the software. Firstly, there's a face tracking feature which electronically zooms and pans to follow the user around. It's useful for those who are unable to sit still, but should be avoided if either party has a slow Internet connection. You can also replace your mug with a cute avatar, with the camera mapping your facial movements onto the avatar.
The Webcam integrates easily with a variety of instant messengers, including Skype, Windows Live Messenger (nee MSN Messenger) and Yahoo Messenger. Sound quality was good with little hint of echo. Video quality over Skype and Windows Live Messenger was indistinguishable from when recording straight to hard-disk. Disappointingly, on Yahoo Messenger, video was stilted and jerky to the point of being unusable. As usual, Webcam integration is restricted to the official IM client for each protocol.