While new high-definition webcams have trickled onto the market during the past year -- with higher price tags tied to their promise of HD video, more features and better software -- in general prices continue to fall, especially for models that have been around for a few years. However, budget does not necessarily mean lack of features. Our Best Reviewed webcam in this category is here solely because of its low price, as it could compete equally in the Best HD webcam category. The wallet-friendly webcams at the lower end of the budget price range, below $15, do lack HD features and are best for users with older PCs who use a webcam primarily for occasional web chats
A good choice here is the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema (*Est. $25) webcam. This was the first webcam to have a full 720p HD sensor and a 16:9 aspect ratio. Its current low price, a third of its original cost, belies its great image quality and solid video performance. The LifeCam Cinema webcam is still highly rated, receiving the Bronze Medal award in TopTenReviews.com's 2011 webcam review, due to its "richer HD picture for video chats." Hank Tolman of BenchmarkReviews.com gives the LifeCam Cinema 4 out of 5 stars, while the user feedback at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com yield an overall rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
The physical design of the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema draws praise from reviewers at TopTenReviews.com and PCMag.com, as well as its users. They admire its sleekly styled aluminum body that gives extra durability and the rubber bottom that adds to the webcam's stability. Reviews like its universal flexible stand, as well as its ability to swivel 360 degrees side-to-side and up and down by 90 degrees. The Live Call Button that immediately starts video calls is another convenience. Microsoft's three-year warranty for its webcams is unique in the webcam world where most warranties are two years or less.
The video quality of the LifeCam Cinema webcam is supported by Microsoft's ClearFrame Technology, which delivers smooth, detailed video, even in low light conditions. Jamie Lendino of PCMag.com is impressed with its image quality and color balance. For video chatting, this webcam works with Windows Live, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and Skype. Unlike Logitech's webcams, the LifeCam Cinema has a glass lens, which some reviewers say produces better quality images. The webcam's autofocus capability receives mixed reviews, as it tends to refocus every time it detects movement -- even the most minute -- in front of the webcam's sensor. Reviewers at Amazon.com consider this a drawback, as do the editors at TopTenReviews.com who state that most users will benefit from turning the autofocus off and focusing the webcam manually.
The LifeCam Cinema's audio quality draws differing opinions. BenchmarkReviews.com's Hank Tolman considers the built-in microphone to be of good quality while Lendino of PCMag.com says that it produces poor quality sound, in part due to the lack of noise- canceling ability. Frank Harrell of CowboyFrank.net states that the sound pickup is weak. Bundled with the LifeCam Cinema is software to enhance and edit videos and images, which can then be uploaded easily to the Internet. However, as with most HD webcams, you need a computer that meets or exceeds the specified system requirements to fully realize this webcam's potential.
At a similar price is the older Microsoft LifeCam HD-5000 (*Est. $25) , which is well reviewed by the editors at CNET and Computer Power User magazine. Justin Yu at CNET says that the HD-5000 "offers excellent high-def video and sound quality at an affordable price." Like other LifeCam webcams, reviewers say that its autofocus feature is too sensitive and constantly refocuses in response to the slightest movement. Unlike newer HD webcams with universal fittings, the LifeCam HD-5000 is designed to fit only desktop monitors and not laptop screens.
The market for webcams under $20 is ever-shrinking. These less expensive basic models do not support HD video and lack features such as lenses that autofocus or zoom and audio enhancement technology. These webcams are best for older computers, with outdated operating systems and little onboard memory.
Microsoft and Logitech offer a few models right around this price point, but reviews and availability are scarce. For example, the well-liked Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000 (discontinued) is no longer listed on their site, and is mainly available from resellers.
Newer models include the Microsoft LifeCam VX-800 (*Est. $18) , Logitech Webcam C110 (*Est. $20) and Logitech Webcam C210 (*Est. $25) , but none of these models have professional reviews, and there are too few user reviews to reach a consensus.