Microsoft just added a trio of webcams to its LifeCam line, and all three are capable of 720p HD video. The LifeCam HD-5000 and HD-5001 have slightly different styling but their innards are the same, both selling for $49.95. Microsoft's claim to fame for these two cams that will be available later this month? "They're the only two webcams with 720p HD widescreen and autofocus for under $50."
Coming along in May is a smaller version of the LifeCam, the $60 HD-6000 that's aimed at notebooks. It's also rocking that 720p video and autofocus, and has a 360° rotation view so you can swing the camera around to show the world your surroundings. All of these cameras feature TrueColor tech, tracking your face and making you look good even in backlit situations. Our experience with it is that it works fairly well, but it's far from perfect.
HD webcams sound great, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a service that can accommodate such resolutions. Skype was crowing about its beta version 4.2 with HD webcam capability at CES 2010, but now that software is been removed from its site. We've contacted Skype for comment.
UPDATE: Skype responds. Version 4.2 of the Skype software is now out of beta and is available, but it only works in 720p with certain webcams. "720p video is available with the proper webcam and bandwidth (approx 1 MB/s). Right now you can only use the HD encoding webcams to achieve HD video calls on Skype, but as soon as we have additional news, we'll be sure to let you know." Unfortunately, Microsoft's HD webcams aren't yet compatible with Skype's 720p service. Skype points to the following examples of cameras that will work in 720p with its system: faceVsion Technology Inc.FV TouchCam N1, In Store Solutions Freetalk HD Pro, Freetalk HD Pro Plus and the Freetalk TV Camera for Samsung.
Our experience with the first of Microsoft's HD webcams, the fancy $80 LifeCam Cinema with ClearFrame Technology, a glass lens and noise-canceling digital mic, shows that it does work beautifully with Skype, just not in HD.
So for now, you can use these cameras' HD capability to record your own videos, but for HD webcam chat, you'll have to wait for the world to catch up with you. Microsoft does have a for-pay Office Communicator HD chatting facility, but it's built for corporate use. So basically, these cameras are all dressed up with no place to go. The dearth of HD webcam chatting is probably related to the lame broadband situation in the U.S. Sigh.