The Philips SPC1330NC Webcam pro, an incremental update of the SPC1300NC, is striking through its design: the chrome-effect trim gives it a retro look that will appeal to those who are bored of the average black blob of a webcam. But aside from the quirky looks, does the webcam impress?
Where many webcams boast that they are good for the businessman on the move, the SPC1330NC is anything but. The construction means this is an office cam only, because the camera body itself sits on a large articulating stand.
The two-piece stand is assembled rather like a clip (without the spring). The insides of the "clip" are lined with rubber, so it has plenty of grip on whatever you place it on. If you still use a CRT monitor, then you'll have to close it fully to get a stable platform, so if your monitor slopes away quickly from the screen you might have trouble getting it steady. Notebook and LCD display users should have no problem hooking the front lip over the edge of the screen and bringing up the back to hold it securely.
The camera itself is somewhat articulated, but not in all directions, so if you can't get the stand level, you won't be able to get the camera level either. However, the articulation you do get has enough friction in it to keep it in the position you leave it.
The lens sits proud at the front, making this a larger than normal webcam. The size is explained by the wide angle that you get from it. It has a glass lens and is autofocus. It looks pretty cool and despite the size, we can't help but admire its looks.
Installation is rather long, although you can opt out of the slew of applications available. You get the webcam drivers, naturally, ArcSoft's Webcam Companion, Philips CamSuite as well as Philips Intelligent Agent, which handles software updates for Philips products. It is a little overwhelming and required a restart, although for average Skype users, you'd probably be able to ditch the ArcSoft elements. All the software is contained on a CD, but netbook users can download the drivers from Philips' website (link below).
There is no official Mac support, although we managed to get some temperamental use from it with Skype, but if you are a Mac user, you'd be better looking elsewhere.
ArcSoft's contribution here is really for various types of capture, giving you the option of filming your own video diaries or whatever, or setting up burst or motion detection.
But the most probable use for your webcam will be staying in touch with your family or colleagues. In this sense the wide angle offered by the Webcam pro means whoever you are talking to will be able to see more of you. It excels in the sort of situation where you have several people crowded around the camera to talk to a family member in another country, for example.
The autofocus is sharp, quickly snapping into focus as things change. This makes it pretty good for talking to camera and demoing an object, which can sometimes confuse cameras. You can switch autofocus off, for example if you are going to have people jumping in and out of a hot seat. There is also a face tracking option (as well as various comedic effects) which we are sure most users will avoid.
As a 2-megapixel device the claim here is that you can capture HD quality video. Sure, you can adjust the settings to capture in those resolutions, but the frame rate drops off alarmingly, so we found ourselves languishing around the VGA settings for the best results. Plenty of detail, good natural colours (with the exception noted below) and nice natural movements are to be had if you don't try to over-do the resolution.
However, as the resolution increases, you might find your PC struggling to cope with capture: we tried a 1.6GHz/2GB notebook (arguably underpowered, but fairly average) and a 2.8GHz/4GB desktop and both struggled to capture smooth video using the provided software at HD settings, suffering problems with audio syncing and frame rates as the resolution increased. The proclaimed 90fps seemed almost impossible to actually use, with rates like 6fps and 15fps being the norm.
The Webcam pro also offers an interpolated 8-megapixel still image capture, for those that want still images too. The quality is reasonable, but like many webcams, the Webcam pro has some exposure problems, often blowing-out highlights. These problems cross over into still images too, so if you are sat by a window you may find skin tones looks unnatural, especially for those with lighter skins.
Low light performance is much better, so if you are used to chatting with those on the other side of the planet, you'll have to make sure you're not wearing your dressing gown because they'll not only be able to see it though the wide angled lens, but also through the good handling of low light conditions. We found it better overall dropping the blinds to reduce natural light, which seems a little ironic.
The Webcam pro is compatible with common video conferencing applications, so we put it through the paces with our favourite application Skype. Ramping up the tech specs doesn't necessarily give you a better image at the other end, as your connection via the Internet and so on may not give you the bandwidth for a full high quality video stream. But you will benefit from the wide angle lens as mentioned previously.
The stereo mics capture good quality audio, better than the built-in mics on many notebooks. There is also noise reduction and echo reduction technologies built-in, but you can only have one or the other of these (we'd rather go with echo reduction). In our tests, everyone mentioned that the sound quality was good, although not as good as a dedicated headset.
Overall the Webcam pro is something of a mixed offering. It is technically able (according to the spec sheet) of doing things that the average user might never be able to. Some might think it a little pricy too, especially if online chatting is your only task for the device.
The wide angle is nice, the design is interesting, but the size makes this a stay at home webcam. It's a shame that the boasts might never be fulfilled.
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