It was a stroke of luck that the Microsoft LifeCam HD-5000 dropped through onto the doormat of Pocket-lint Towers, just as the Chat Roulette phenomenon of 2010 was hitting the Internet. However our interest soon wore off as the fifth male member in a row graced our screen, and after a group counselling session we finally managed to turn our attention to the webcam itself.
Aimed at the budget conscious and what looks to be a follow up to the LifeCam Cinema, the HD-5000 sits alongside its counterpart the 6000, the former supposedly designed for desktops and the latter for laptops. The 5000 that greeted us was a small, highly portable device with the outer casing entirely made out of plastic; which included the lens. However, despite the cheaper materials the HD-5000 retained an air of quality and would certainly be able to withstand a few knocks in the bottom of a bag.
The LifeCam's black body gets a silver bezel surrounding the lens, with key features being a rectangular button (flush with the body) on top of the device for firing up Windows Live Messenger, and a flexible stand/strip.
The Messenger button carried out its task dutifully and launched Messenger whenever pressed - incidentally it'll also cope fine with Yahoo! Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger and Skype. In attempting to use the flexible stand to attach it to both a desktop and laptop screen we were a little perturbed at its apparent instability. However, after a couple of goes, and rather vigorous twists of the strip it seemed to sit aloft our chosen device in a secure manner.
The LifeCam HD-5000 proved very easy to set-up, with us slotting it into our laptop via the USB connection and firing up the disk included in the box. The interface was very straightforward and we doubt anyone would need to even glance at the instructions to make use of the various options on offer.
You'll get two windows: one which displays your image, with a LifeCam folder on the bottom left along with Photo Capture, Audio Capture and Video Capture icons. A mouse click away is the main effects and settings panel. The effects panel gives you options to play around with an image a la fairground Hall of Mirrors, as well as effects such as sepia, negative and watercolour. Whereas the settings gives you resolution, mic volume and the option to turn "truecolor" on and off.
In use we found the LifeCam to give some excellent detail, with some very clear images. However our biggest gripe was with the auto focusing which had a tendency not only to refocus a lot, but at odd moments. This was especially annoying when holding up objects close to the camera or changing settings, with the auto focus taking a good few seconds to readjust.
We also found the truecolor feature (which aims to give a better representation of colour, even in low lighting) to be a bit of a mixed bag; although it did appear to improve colour rendition when there was an even spread of light, when light was coming in from a window behind our head, turning the feature on created a bleeding effect which washed out background detail.
Capable of widescreen 720p HD, the webcam has plenty of other resolutions available to suit your system requirements. A digital zoom is also available on the lower resolutions. A word of caution, however, as in use the 720p option seemed to use up a good chunk of our laptop: if you're on a low specced PC and buying purely for the HD capability you might want give it a second thought.
To sum up then, the Microsoft LifeCam is a smart little device, delivering decent video along with some easy to use and fun features. Its portable nature and sturdy (despite the all plastic build) design also gives it an added edge.
However, it's not without its faults, as the autofocus is very slow to respond and it did seem to use up an awful lot of precious CPU power. One to perhaps have a look at, but certainly not a must by.