While high-definition (HD) video used to be reserved for high-end webcams, this year, nearly all models have this feature. The underlying value proposition remains the same -- enabling you to easily broadcast video and audio from your PC -- but newer models offer superior HD video quality, more features and better software than those released just a few years ago.
The competition in this category is fierce, with this year's webcams consistently outperforming last year's winners. Standard features in webcams now include echo and noise reduction, 30 frames-per-second video capture and light-correcting technology, in addition to HD. And you no longer have to worry about buying different webcams for your desktop monitor and your laptop as the latest models come with universal fittings for different size screens. Logitech and Microsoft webcams dominate this category, with one webcam from Hewlett Packard as a competitor.
Now that HD is standard on the latest webcams, the high-end models move beyond this to provide what is often called "full-HD" aka 1080p resolution. The latest high-end webcam technology provides the ability to record high-definition video in HD 1080p mode. Webcams with an HD 1080p-capable sensor produce widescreen video (16:9 as opposed to 4:3) with superior sharpness and detail at high frame rates that ensure smooth image motion and transition.
Two highly rated full-HD webcams compete for the top spot in this category. Logitech's HD Pro Webcam C910 narrowly edges out the Microsoft LifeCam Studio for our Best Reviewed HD webcam rating.
Since its release in June 2010, the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910 (*Est. $65) has received praise from professional reviewers and users alike. While we've included the HD Pro C910 here in our Best HD webcam category, it fits equally well in the Best Mac Compatible webcam category. It ranks number 5 on TopTenReviews.com's 2011 webcam review, missing the Gold Medal solely because of its cost, though it's now available for well under their recorded price of $100. In addition, Ian Osborne of TechRadar.com rates it as the best webcam for Macintosh computers of five webcams that he reviews, and it wins a PCMag's Editors' Choice award.
TechRadar.com's Osborne says that the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910 gives "an excellent performance, with great video and sound," praise that echoes throughout the customer reviews at Amazon.com. The HD Pro C910 webcam's superb sound and video qualities are due to Logitech's RightLight 2 and RightSound technology. The RightLight 2 technology is a system of software and hardware that produces natural-looking images, whatever the level of background light. Jamie Lendino of PCMag.com says that the HD Pro C910 has "the best quality auto light correction of any webcam," although very bright rooms look a little washed-out. Its excellent sound quality is created through RightSound technology, which cancels the echo effect of audio through a webcam situated near a noisy computer, and excellent noise-suppressing dual stereo microphones. Pulling this all together is Logitech's Fluid Crystal Technology, a proprietary algorithm that produces the best possible image by continually reacting to environmental conditions and adjusting the frame rate, sharpness and color.
The full-HD technology of the HD Pro C910 allows for 1080p HD video recording. This gives true widescreen format for superior detail and 16:9 image quality, which the HD Pro C910 delivers; one reviewer at Amazon.com complains that the high-definition 1080p picture shows every minor skin flaw and blemish. Although Logitech states clearly that this capability is available only for video recording, some user reviewers are surprised that video chatting is available only in 720p. Lendino highlights that the video in 1080p mode is sharp and smoothly animated. However, because it requires a computer system with 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM and 200 MB hard drive space, successfully using the high-end technology of the HD Pro C910 may be beyond the capability of older computers.
Also supplied with the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910 are free codes for downloading Magix Photo Manager and Video Easy software to edit photos and videos. Some users like that the editing software can be used to create effects in snapshots and in video chat. However, others complain about how much computer hard drive space the software takes up. Lendino's computer system crashed when he tried to use this software to manipulate and add effects to his videos. He also identifies some issues in recorded video files, due to the compression, which is noticeable when playing videos in Windows Media Player. Unfortunately, the compression feature cannot be turned off. Despite these shortcomings, PCMag.com gives Logitech's HD Pro Webcam C910 its Editors' Choice award. (The C910 eventually loses its award to the Microsoft LifeCam Studio (*Est. $100) , discussed below.)
As an added bonus as part of its high-technology offering, the HD Pro Webcam C910 has a 10 megapixel camera, the highest resolution still camera of any webcam available. The reviewers at TopTenReviews.com say that this could be a deciding factor if you plan to take many photos with your webcam.
Logitech webcams offer some special and even unique features, praised by both professional and user reviewers. The HD Pro C910 webcam has a face-tracking feature that follows you if you move out of the current view range. The webcam also comes with Fast Access facial recognition software which allows you to log into Windows and websites just by appearing in front of the webcam, instead of entering passwords. Some user reviewers at Amazon.com are upset, though, that they have to pay for this feature after a 60-day free trial. Unique to Logitech webcams, in recognition of the popular pairing of video and social media, is one-click upload. This allows you to upload photos and 720p videos to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter with just one click of the mouse button.
Its superior performance, ease of installation and use, and wide selection of features earn the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910 3.5 out of 4 stars from TopTenReviews.com, and 4.5 out of 5 from TechRadar.com and from contributors at Amazon.com.
Our runner-up in this category is the Microsoft LifeCam Studio (*Est. $100) webcam, also a full-HD webcam. Since its launch in September 2010, the LifeCam Studio has been the chief competitor for the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910, and ranks only one slot lower than the HD Pro C910 on TopTenReviews.com's 2011 review. The editors at PCMag.com also give the LifeCam Studio an Editors' Choice award, replacing the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910 as their favorite webcam.
The reviewers at both TopTenReviews.com and PCMag.com praise the LifeCam Studio's sound and video quality. Lendino of PCMag.com says that it has the "most natural color balance that we've seen from a webcam." Microsoft's TrueColor Technology enables the video to remain bright with a true-to-life color in all light conditions, and its ClearFrame Technology produces detailed and smooth video. The autofocus capability of the sensor, however, raises some concerns. TopTenReviews.com finds that objects directly in front of the lens become blurred, and customer reviewers at BestBuy.com and Amazon.com report that the autofocus "goes crazy" when someone moves in front of it, resulting in a blurry image for a few seconds. However, many users overcome this by turning off the autofocus and focusing the webcam manually. The audio quality of the LifeCam Studio has mixed reviews. Lendino says that it has a warm voice reproduction, even though the microphone lacks noise suppression and doesn't cancel out the sound of a fan in the background. In general, contributors at Amazon.com are pleased with this webcam's sound quality.
Like the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910, Microsoft's LifeCam Studio webcam allows for 1080p video recording and has only 720p video chatting. A drawback is that when the LifeCam Studio records in 1080p mode, it's only at 15 frames per second (fps), half the usual rate of 30 fps. This results in a choppy video that skips frames. For video recorded at 720p, Lendino says that the LifeCam Studio's video is sharper than that of Logitech's HD Pro Webcam C910 and the LifeCam Studio does not have the HD Pro C910's compression problems.
The physical size and appearance of the LifeCam Studio draw mixed reviews. The review at TopTenReviews.com says that the webcam is too large to sit comfortably and stably on a laptop and contributors to BestBuy.com say that the lens cap is loose fitting. Both professional reviewers and users alike praise the webcam's ability to swivel a full 360 degrees without tangling the cord and appreciate its mounting clip that incorporates a tripod thread. Microsoft's three-year warranty for this webcam, in contrast to the one- or two-year warranty offered by other webcam manufacturers, along with its 30-day return policy, draw rave reviews from all sources.
Microsoft's LifeCam Studio also comes with software to manipulate video and still images, though it's not as extensive as that of the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910. Once again, the computer system requirements become an issue, especially for Lendino. In his tests, visual effects became out of sync with the video, for as much as a few seconds, even when he used a high-end computer.
Another strong contender in this category is Microsoft's LifeCam Cinema which, although not full-HD, has all the features and quality of the other webcams here. We've made it our Best Reviewed pick in the Budget webcam category due to its low price, and you can find our review of it in that section.
Next in the Best HD webcam category is the HP Webcam HD-3110 (*Est. $30) . It ranks highly at TopTenReviews.com, and is recommended in a roundup at PC World. Also recommended is the Logitech HD Webcam C310, which is covered in the Mac-compatible webcam section of this report, though it works on both Windows and Mac platforms.
TopTenReviews.com gives the Hewlett Packard HD-3110 webcam its Silver Medal award for its high-quality recording and its reliability and ease of use. However, it is not a full-HD webcam and records only at 720p. The HD-3110 has a 5.7 megapixel camera and allows the user to take screenshots while video chatting. The HD-3110 comes with ArcSoft Magic-I Visual Effects 2, which allows the user to add special effects to videos, images and chats. Also included is software to manage pictures and video and to post them online. Many of the 15 reviewers at Amazon.com like this feature, awarding an average of 4 stars out of 5 for this webcam.
Welcomed by reviewers, the HD-3110 has some physical controls rather than running everything through the software dashboard. Three easy access buttons stacked near the lens allow the webcam user to take a snapshot, open instant chat or record video without opening and navigating the features with the computer. Overall, the HP Webcam HD-3110 is reliable and easy to use with some interesting features. However, its one-year warranty is one of the shortest for webcams.
Rounding out the category of Best HD webcam is the Logitech Webcam Pro 9000 (*Est. $40) , our previous selection as the best all-around webcam, and a good choice for sharing video on the web. The Webcam Pro 9000 includes outstanding high-definition optics, user-friendly software and excellent audio as well as 720p HD video in a widescreen format at up to 30 fps. Logitech's RightLight 2 technology, which optimizes image quality in low light, is built directly into the camera rather than relying on PC software to handle the chore; Frank Harrell at CowboyFrank.net says this improves performance "because your computer isn't having to do as much."
Reviewers are impressed with the webcam's glass Carl Zeiss Tessar lens. EverythingUSB.com's Scott Clark states that it improves clarity and takes in more light than plastic lenses found in other webcams. As with other Logitech webcams, the Pro 9000 comes with Logitech Video Effects, which spices video up with "neon splashes, fish-eye distortions, and more." User reviewers are equally enthusiastic about this webcam. In more than 1,500 user ratings at Amazon.com, the Webcam Pro 9000 maintains a high overall score of 4.5 stars out of 5.