The LifeCam VX-6000's small, ring-shaped base is stable and works for a variety of mounting situations. When collapsed, the ring is great for desktop mounting, and by unfolding the base into an L-shape hook, the stand can be securely mounted on a thin notebook screen or an LCD monitor. The stand also flips flat in order to hook onto the top of a CRT monitor. It's one of the more flexible and stable Webcams we've tested. The LifeCam VX-6000 is also easy to maneuver: the head swivels 360 degrees and tilts 45 degrees down and 90 degrees up. This adjustability is impressive compared with the Logitech QuickCam Fusion's, which only offers 90 degrees of vertical movement. A large button on top of the LifeCam VX-6000 works with Windows Live Messenger to launch a list of contacts you can call. Unfortunately, the button is so prominent and easy to activate that we launched the call center almost every time we adjusted the Webcam.
The Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000 comes with a single CD that includes drivers and software for taking pictures and video clips. To install the Webcam, you also need to install Windows Live Messenger (currently in beta)--the install wizard takes you to the proper page on Microsoft's site and leads you through the installation. Microsoft doesn't include excessive extras like Creative's Webcams do, but it packs the essentials all within the Microsoft LifeCam software: you can take still photos, shoot videos, and edit with either Windows Movie Maker or Microsoft Paint.
Like most Webcam software, the Microsoft LifeCam suite is easy to use. Three buttons on top of the screen let you choose from taking a still photo, recording audio, or recording video. On the left, a button launches a window that lets you choose video resolution. You can choose to capture photos in the same resolution you've selected for video or set photo resolution separately. Microsoft includes a dashboard that lets you add cartoon characters and backgrounds to the image; but the video effects aren't as impressive as Creative's or Logitech's. The dashboard also includes LifeCam navigational controls, such as pan and zoom. There's also a button at the bottom of the window that launches the Windows Live Space blogging tool where you can post pictures to your blog--a feature we haven't seen in any other Webcams. The blog button won't work until Microsoft updates Live Space, expected by June 15, 2006.
We tested the Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000 under a variety of lighting conditions and were pleased with the image's overall appearance but disappointed with the color quality. Colors looked washed-out, and we couldn't achieve more vivid color through adjusting the settings. Images were sharp, however, and we saw only a slight bit of digital noise in dark backgrounds. Video was generally smooth, but quick movements, such as the waving of a hand, appeared jerky and blurred.
Video records at a maximum 30 frames per second at resolutions ranging from 160x120 to 1.3 megapixels, which is standard for this class of Webcam. You can capture still images at any of those resolutions up to 1.3 megapixels, and the Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000 can take 5-megapixel still photos, but they're interpolated. The video software is easy to use, but there's an eight-second delay between when you hit the video record button until video recording begins. Audio quality with the LifeCam VX-6000's built-in microphone is clear and free of distortion, though we prefer the directional audio and clearer sound from the Creative Live Cam Voice.
Microsoft backs the LifeCam VX-6000 with a three-year warranty, which is better than the standard one year for input devices. Support is available online or via a toll-free phone number; phone support is free for the first 90 days after purchase. Microsoft's support site also offers FAQs, forums, and driver downloads.