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Explainer: Best HD webcams for the holidays

  • Improve your video-chat quality this holiday season by upgrading to high definition. Here are PCWorld's recommendations for the year's top webcams.

  • Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910

    The first HD webcam capable of full 1080p video chatting to hit the market, the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910 impressed us with its fluid and crisp motion capture, sharp autofocus, and easy-to-use Logitech Vid HD video-calling software. A slight color distortion appears under bright lights, but you can easily adjust the camera's software settings to correct the problem. Like any other HD webcam, the C910 supports high-def video only if your PC meets certain requirements; you may have to adjust the camera to a non-HD resolution if your system slows down.

    Cost: $100

    More info:Logitech

  • FaceVsion TouchCam N1

    The Skype-certified FaceVsion TouchCam N1 is the perfect webcam for business video calls and videoconferences. This plug-and-play model shoots 720p HD video, has a stunning color display, and comes with a strong dual microphone designed to capture sound from various points around the device. Because this webcam was designed for Skype, it doesn't support high-definition video chat in other chat clients (such as AIM and G-chat), but you can still use it as a regular VGA webcam.

    Cost: $120

    More info:  FaceVsion

  • Microsoft LifeCam Studio

    Microsoft recently unveiled the first webcam in its LifeCam line that can shoot video in 1080p, the Microsoft LifeCam Studio. This top-of-the-line model has a fluid autofocus, vivid color, and stunning all-around video capture, packaged in an innovative barrel design. The LifeCam Studio works best when paired with Windows Live Messenger so that you can access the Webcam's most advanced chatting features. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

    Cost: $100

    More info: Microsoft

  • HP HD-4110 Webcam

    The well-designed HP HD-4110 webcam comes equipped with easy-launch buttons and can shoot 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second. Each of the three top buttons launches a different Webcam feature: One records video and uploads it to YouTube, another launches your preferred chatting service, and a third snaps a still photo. Once the autofocus adjusts and kicks in, the face-tracking feature ensures that you remain in focus throughout the whole chat.

    Cost: $90 (available in November)

    More info:HP

  • Microsoft LifeCam HD-6000

    If you want a budget high-def webcam that doesn't sacrifice image quality, the Microsoft LifeCam HD-6000 is a solid choice, especially if you intend to use it with your laptop. The camera's design is sleek and smart, consisting of a compact box with a smooth, 360-degree rotational swivel attached to a strong grip clip so the camera stays in place. The LifeCam HD-6000 shoots in 720p HD and has lots of customizable video-capture options; drawbacks include extremely bright video capture and visible pixelation in solid colors.

    Cost: $60

    More info:Microsoft

  • Microsoft LifeCam HD-5000

    A sibling of the HD-6000, the Microsoft LifeCam HD-5000 adopts a slightly different design with an anchoring device that's perfect for desktop systems. The LifeCam series was designed with Windows Live Messenger in mind, and the HD-5000 reaches its best quality of 720p HD video in tandem with that instant messaging client. The microphone excels at handling video chat, but video capture in HD mode is often grainy, and the image sometimes flickers during fast motion. Fortunately, manually adjusting the webcam's settings can correct these minor flaws.

    Cost: $50

    More info:Microsoft

  • Freetalk Everyman HD

    If you're an occasional video chatter who prefers to use Skype, the Freetalk Everyman HD is worth considering, especially as a starter Webcam. The compact design is easy to set up and intuitive to use — just plug it in via the attached USB cable and turn on Skype, and you're ready to chat in 720p HD.

    The Everyman HD lacks an onboard mic, so make sure that you have a separate microphone if you're planning to use video chat. Though the camera's constant refocusing causes a few motion-capture issues, the unit supports automatic exposure to fix color and contrast.

    Cost: $60

    More info:Skype

  • HP HD-3100 and HD-3110 webcams

    The HP HD-3100 and HD-3110 are similar in performance and almost identical in design, but the HD-3110 has autofocus, while the HD-3100 does not. These 720p HD webcams have the same easy-launch buttons as the more advanced HP HD-4110, for quick access to your favorite chat client. But video is often grainy, and fast motion causes a flicker, so the HD-3100 and HD-3220 are best suited for occasional video chatting on a budget.

    Cost:  $40/$50

    More info: HP

  • Genius eFace 2050AF

    The Genius eFace 2050AF would make a solid gift for a younger person interested in informal video chat. Another camera that supports 720p HD video capture, the eFace runs on Genius's CrazyTalk software, which lets you add animation and avatars to your video —though the video capture is often choppy and off-color.

    Cost: $60

    More info: Genius

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