The quality of the visuals and the audio (more on that below) are clearly the most important performance criteria. For the most part, the video on inexpensive webcams passes muster with webcam reviews, experts and users alike.
Expert webcam reviews on CNET praise the clear video images on the low-cost Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000 (starting at $35) but criticize the choppy video at high resolutions and grainy video at low resolutions on the pricier Microsoft LifeCam VX-7000 (starting at $45).
An expert webcam review of the Microsoft LifeCam VX-3000
(starting at $25) on PCMag.com
says this entry-level model is OK for video chats although the video quality is mediocre.
Users posting webcam reviews on Best Buy like the adjustable lighting feature on the HP Deluxe Webcam (starting at $100), which nicely displays your face even in darker rooms. The Logitech C500 (starting at $41) likewise earns praise in webcams reviews on Amazon for its ability to adjust to dim lighting and on Best Buy for its ability to focus (one user notes it doesn't blur when there's movement in the background, like a puppy running helter-skelter).
The Creative Live Video IM Pro does an especially good job of focusing by tracking your eyes and nose and cropping your image accordingly, according to a webcams review on Buy.com. Its cousin, the Creative Live Cam Notebook Pro (starting at $31), relies on a manual focus, which users posting reviews of discount webcams on PCWorld.com say delivers decent visuals but note that good lighting helps.
The Ezonics EZCam II (starting at $15), on the other hand, takes hits in user webcams reviews on CNET for very poor image quality even in bright light. An expert webcams review of the Ezonics EZCam II on CNET is more pointed, noting that the stated resolution for this webcam is 640x480 but the highest useful resolution is only 352x288; at anything higher, the review continues, the webcam drops frames. The CNET review also says the Ezonics EZCam II's focus is poor, as is its ability to pick up detail.
User and expert assessments of cheap webcams' audio quality is generally positive. A webcam review on Pocket-Lint commends the microphone on the Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000, saying it's better than most of the built-in mics you get with a laptop. On Newegg, a webcams review notes that the Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000 microphone can pick up your voice from across the room, which also means it picks up irritating background noises. The Logitech C500 microphone earns applause in a webcams review on Amazon for its success in screening out background noises. Praise for the audio quality of the HP Deluxe is equally high in webcams reviews on Walmart, where a user writes that the sound is loud and clear even if you're far away from the device. Audio on the Microsoft LifeCam VX-3000, on the other hand, takes a few hits from experts on PCMag.com and users on CNET who gripe about low volume and buzzing.
Ease of Setup.
Based on user comments and the absence of complaints, it's fair to say that cheap webcams are easy to get going. Many Logitech C500 webcam reviews on Amazon mention both the ease of setup and its quality performance. Several Best Buy webcams reviewers say all you have to do with the HP Deluxe is plug it into the USB port, and webcams reviews on Walmart report that the required software installation is a breeze. Some webcam reviews on Amazon grumble about problems setting up the Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000, although on the whole consumers say this webcam is easy to install; ditto for the LifeCam VX-3000. The EZonics EZCam II is criticized in user reviews of cheap webcams on CNET for being particularly challenging to set up with Windows XP.
Low-cost Webcams Ease of Use.
Setting up your webcam is only the first step; next, you must be able to use it. Most cheap webcams score well with consumers on ease of use. Webcams reviews of Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000 on Amazon are strongly positive, as are Logitech C500 reviews on Amazon. The same goes for the HP Deluxe, according to webcams reviews on Walmart But once again, the EZonics EZCam II falls short; several CNET user reviews complain this webcam is both difficult to install and to use.
The length of time you can reasonably expect to use a cheap webcam could be months or years. Most consumers write webcam reviews (positive and negative) fairly soon after their purchase, so it's impossible to assess durability. The HP Deluxe and Logitech C250 come with one-year warranties that include technical support. More expensive models generally feature longer warranties; the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 (starting at $100
), for example, comes with a two-year warranty. The three-year warranty on the Microsoft LifeCam VX 5000 is unusual for cheap webcams.