The Philips SPC 900NC is a serviceable Webcam, but it can't match up to the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000, which lists for the same $99. What this Philips cam has going for it is the ability to capture smooth video at up to 60 frames per second, the best face-tracking feature I've tested, and useful lighting presets and adjustments that result in a well-balanced picture under a variety of lighting conditions. But the Logitech is still unmatched in low-light conditions, provides a higher pixel count, and boasts an overall better build quality, including a sturdier, more flexible stand. Plus, our Philips SPC 900NC review unit had a few stuck pixels in the middle of its sensor, and the bundled VLounge app has an outdated look and some annoying bugs that detract from its appeal.
After reviewing the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 and the Creative Live Cam Optia AF, the Philips SPC 900NC feels like a cheap, plastic toy. It's much lighter than the other two cameras, with a very thin plastic base. The camera can be mounted somewhat securely on top of a monitor or laptop, but the base with its single hinge and arced shape does not allow for a secure perch on your desk. Thankfully, there's a screw mount that will work with a tripod, if you're serious about your Webcam positioning. The lens can be swiveled about 70 degrees. There's no autofocus; you must turn the focus ring on the lens to get a sharp picture. On one side of the cylindrical camera is a button to snap a picture and on the other is a button to call up the VLounge app; neither button worked, however, on either system on which I installed the camera.
Installation is pretty straightforward, but you'll have to head to the Philips Web site for Vista drivers; they're not included on the bundled CD. The VLounge app is used for recording and playing back video and still shots, but the software looks dated and was buggy on two separate installs. In the settings window, there are three tabs: General, Video, and Audio. On one Vista machine, anytime I clicked the Audio tab, the entire VLounge app froze and had to be restarted with the old Ctrl-Alt-Del routine. On a second Vista system, the Audio tab worked fine but whenever I clicked on the little e-mail envelope button in the main VLounge window, Windows would flash an error message and the app would abruptly close.
In addition to the software troubles, the SPC 900NC unit Philips submitted for review had a few dead pixels near the middle of the sensor that resulted in a small, black mark in all videos and still photos. The camera's VGA sensor can snap still photos up to a software interpolated 1,280x960; video maxes out at 640x480. While Philips claims the camera can do up to 90 frames per second, the highest setting offered is 60fps. Video captured at 60fps and 30fps was smooth; lower frame rates struggled with movement, resulting in frequent pixelition.
The best two features of the Philip SPC 900NC are its face-tracking feature and its lighting preset. The face-tracking feature uses the camera's 8x digital zoom to follow your bobbing, weaving head to keep it centered in the frame. The Philips cam executed this feature much better than any camera I've reviewed; it accurately followed my mug while smoothly zooming in and out. In contrast, the Creative Live Cam Optia AF often lost track of my face and zoomed wildly in seemingly desperate attempts to relocate it. In adjusting the image, you can opt for a fully automatic setting along with individual auto and manual settings for exposure and white balance. If you turn off Auto White Balance, you're given three lighting options: Indoor, Outdoor, and Fluorescence, which I found very useful. The Fluorescence setting, for example, warms up the picture by adding red. You can also take matters into your own hands and use sliders to adjust the red and blue levels along with brightness, contrast, gamma, and saturation.
The Webcam can do motion-detection monitoring, but the bright, white activation light above the lens might blow your cover. Inside the box is a 30-day trial offer to MioNet for remote access. Also in the box is limited version of Nero's SIPPS video-conferencing app, which requires a lengthy install and registration at something called the Nikotel network. You're better off using Skype or Yahoo or MSN or AOL video-enabled instant messengers.