Logitech recently released a raft of new webcams and we've spent the last week putting the C600 through its paces. Despite the fact that the unit offers superior imaging capabilities over the little black circle above the screen on my laptop, it wasn’t the webcam itself that impressed most, but the included Logitech Vid software. But we’ll get to that. First to the webcam.
Physically, the C600 is a reasonably attractive-looking unit. The camera itself is housed in a sphere measuring about 2.15 inches (5.5cm) in diameter, which sits atop a flexible clip base. I’m ashamed to say it took me a while to figure out how to attach the clip to the top of my screen - but I eventually worked it out. The camera boasts a glass lens and 2-megapixel sensor, capable of capturing 16 x 9 widescreen video at up to 720p and up to 8-megapixel stills via software enhancement. It also boasts face-tracking technology that is used for a number of applications, including panning and tilting of the lens to follow a face as it moves around.
If you’re like me, then you probably think the seemingly standard 1.3 megapixel camera that is most likely embedded in your current laptop is adequate for your needs. However, looking at the picture provided by the 2-megapixel C600, it becomes obvious just what a difference a few extra hundred pixels can make. The images from the C600 were much clearer and more detailed than those from my embedded webcam. Obviously not too much of a surprise there but, like a freshly cleaned window you didn't realize was so dirty, I was appreciative of the clearer picture.
Performance under varying lighting conditions
What was even more noticeable, though, was the improved performance of the C600 when it came to dealing with a range of different lighting conditions. When at my computer I sit with my back to a window, which means dealing with a fair bit of backlight when videoconferencing. While the image from my computer’s embedded webcam surrounded me in a blown out halo, the C600 managed to dial down the backlight while maintaining the right amount of light on my face.
This is thanks to the RightLight 2 Technology featured in the C600 that apparently uses face-tracking software to identify the face in a video image and establish the best light and color settings to display it. When a less than ideal lighting situation is detected a dialog box opens asking whether it should apply the RightLight to attempt to rectify the problem. The software can be set to apply automatically or on a case-by-case basis.
The capability of the RightLight 2 Technology was also evident in very low light. In conditions where I almost disappeared into darkness using my in-built webcam, the RightLight 2 Technology brightened the whole image so that I could be clearly seen, and without the degree of digital noise usually associated with such methods.
As a standalone unit the C600 also features a built-in microphone, which performed well under the test conditions. The RightSound technology used in the C600 reduced, but didn’t eliminate, the echo effect that is caused by using external speakers rather than headphones on a video call. However, it did manage to eliminate the feedback that was causing havoc when I called myself from one computer placed next to the computer receiving the call. That’s probably not a scenario that people are going to face often, but my ears definitely appreciated it.
The QuickCam software included with the C600 can be used to capture video or stills and even allows uploading of the video directly to YouTube via a single button. Other features include video effects that can apply a filter to an image in real time, add facial accessories such as a cartoon crown or an arrow through the head, or replace a person’s head with an avatar such as an alien or dinosaur. The camera’s face-tracking ability allows the facial accessories to move as you move, while, once calibrated, the avatar's mouth, head and eye movements match that of the user – albeit with a bit of lag depending on how fast one is moving. Probably not the thing for business related videoconferencing, but something that is sure to keep the kids busy for hours.
The QuickCam software is also where adjustments to brightness, color and contrast can be made, as well as turning features such as RightLight 2 and automatic face following on or off. It is simple to use, although the icon based menu system might require a bit of random clicking to figure out what each item is for.
Logitech has developed its own video calling application, which it has tried to make as simple and idiot-proof as possible to set-up and use. On those fronts they've succeeded admirably.
Installation and set-up of the Vid software took less than ten minutes and was an exceptionally simple process. The software isn’t cross compatible with other video calling applications, so users will need to sign up for a Logitech Vid account using an email address. This email address is also used to as an identifier to allow you to find and be found by prospective contacts. If someone you want to add as a contact hasn’t signed up for an account then an email is sent asking them to join with a link to download the Logitech Vid software.
At this stage it should be pointed out that the Logitech Vid software is only free for Logitech webcam users. Although the application will work with other webcams and the Vid software can be trialled for 30 days, users will need to purchase a Logitech webcam to continue to use it after that time since there’s no option to purchase it separately.
Since Vid has been designed to make video calling as simple as possible, Logitech haven't included any features that could potentially muddy the video calling waters, like text chat. To that end, when Vid is opened users are presented with a carousel of contacts, along with the option to add a contact or make a practice call. Placing a call is then as simple as clicking on the desired contact’s photo.
Once someone accepts your call, the video call commences with a basic interface consisting of a Full Screen maximize button in the bottom left of the picture, a Hang Up button on the bottom middle and a Pause button and button to toggle the small self-view picture on the bottom right. The simplicity of the interface should make it easy for even the most computer illiterate to quickly get up and running with minimal instruction.
The Vid software automatically alters the resolution of the video depending on the available bandwidth. This was noticeable when picture quality was slightly reduced on a call made just prior to 5pm, which typically sees a spike in local internet traffic, compared to a test call made earlier in the day. The reduction in quality was by no means horrendous and apparently helps Vid maintain smooth video at roughly 30 frames per second.
Logitech has been a major player in the webcam arena for years now and their experience shows with both the C600 and the Vid software application. They're extremely easy to set up and use, and both offer impressive performance.
Anyone with a laptop with an embedded 1.3-megapixel camera looking for a more detailed picture will notice a definite improvement in picture quality using the C600. But it’s not just the extra 0.7-megapixels that make the C600 worth considering. It’s the RightLight 2 Technology that adjusts the picture to suit varying lighting conditions, coupled with the RightSound Technology for noise reduction on video calls that puts the C600 out in front of laptop embedded webcams, and makes it an attractive option for desktop PCs as well.
As for the Vid software, it does what it sets out to do - making video calling easy for computer novices with simple set up and user interface. The fact that it's free is, of course, a major plus, but the requirement of a Logitech webcam for use beyond the 30-day trial period is a definite downside. But Logitech is a popular choice in the webcam market, so there are plenty of potential contacts out there and, if they’re looking for a simple, easy-to-use video calling program, I’d encourage them to give Vid a go.
One more thing...
One major criticism I have, though, is the absence of any Mac software with the webcam. In fact, the packaging only lists Windows XP, Vista or 7 compatibility. However, when I plugged it into a Mac, the C600 was selectable as a video device for use in Skype and functioned fine, albeit without access to the various bells and whistles only accessible through the QuickCam software.
Although it wasn’t included with the C600 webcam, it turns out there is a Mac version of Logitech Vid freely available for download. I only discovered this when I tried calling a Mac-based friend using Logitech Vid to see what would happen. The email request included a link to download the Logitech Vid software that allowed the option of a Mac OS version.
The Logitech C600 is available now for USD$79.99, while Vid is compatible with Windows and Mac computers and is available free download from Logitech.