The scoop: HD 5210 Webcam, by HP, about $100.
What is it? This USB webcam includes an integrated H.264 video processor, which helps produce higher-quality video calls and video recording than other webcams (both external and internally integrated into a notebook). Other features include dual noise-canceling stereo microphones; three "quick-launch" buttons for recording, video calling or uploading to social sites; and a pan-and-tilt option for 360-degree viewing during a call or recording session. A still camera can shoot 13-megapixel digital images, and recording videos support 1080p resolution (video calls via Skype or Google Chat, however, can only record in 720p). HP says its TrueVision technology can improve the video image in low-light situations, and the camera has a nice auto-focus feature and face-tracking ability (via bundled software). The software includes a control center app (for launching various webcam-related tasks), a visual effects program (for cute things like adding borders or funny images during your chats) and basic video and photo editing software.
Why it's cool: If you're using a desktop system or notebook that doesn't have an integrated webcam, this provides you with the latest HD resolution for making video calls or recording yourself at the computer. Even if you own a notebook with an integrated webcam, the higher video quality may entice you. In our tests, the HD 5210 produced better video images than our integrated webcams (a 1.3-megapixel camera that claimed 720p support, but we had doubts), which made me look washed out during video chats.
The auto-focus was nice, especially compared with older webcams that you'd have to manually adjust to try to get a somewhat crisp image. The higher-quality camera also comes in handy if you want to record a lot of video for uploading to social sites -- if you regularly blog and want to add a video component, having a better webcam makes you look a lot more professional. The 360-degree swivel function is nice if you have a bunch of people with you during a video call; they don't have to scrunch together to be seen by your recipients.
The dual noise-canceling microphones were also a plus. Sound quality was vastly superior to the internal microphone on my system, although I'd still recommend using a headset during video chats to avoid feedback during a call.
Some caveats: I was disappointed in the flexible grip stand -- it seems geared more toward mounting on a flat-panel monitor rather than the back of a notebook display. This caused some issues where if I moved the USB cable, the camera would move or fall off. The recording software was OK -- I could record a video clip, but then needed to convert it to a different video format before importing into the iMovie video editing software I use. Despite the H.264 support, it still needed the conversion. Also a letdown: no Mac support on the camera.
Bottom line: If you plan on using a webcam on a daily basis, the HD 5210 is a high-quality device that should enhance your video calls and recorded content. If you're just using a camera for the occasional video chat, though, the integrated camera on your notebook should work just fine.
Grade: 3.5 stars (out of five).
Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter -- @shawkeith.
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