Review: Microsoft’s Cinema Studio 1080p HD webcam

A couple of weeks ago Microsoft finally released its webcam the Lifecam Cinema Studio in Europe. It has a threaded interface for tripod use, a ‘true’ 1080p and 720p video sensor, and a lens cap. Officially, it’s not supported on Macs, but we tried anyway.

With the LifeCam Cinema Studio Microsoft had its design department running overtime. This little webcam looks more like a miniature broadcast camcorder than a traditional webcam. It’s mostly aluminium and has a rubberized mount that flexes so you can mount the Cinema Studio on almost any monitor. The threaded hole is nice if you have for example a GorillaPod. It allows the webcam to be positioned anywhere you like. The lens is said to be made of glass, promising higher picture quality, but it’s not a Zeiss licensed lens like the ones we’re used to from Logitech.

I was very eager to test the Cinema Studio because of its 1080p sensor that should give you a bigger view with some Mac software. I tested using QuickTime Player, Wirecast Pro 4 and BoinxTV 1.6.2. Only QuickTime Player recognised the Cinema Studio’s 1080p capabilities without a glitch. My poor Mac Mini ground to a halt when trying to record. The second-best experience came when I ran BoinxTV with the Cinema Studio connected. The software recognised both 720p and 1080p, as with QuickTime Player.

The big disappointment came from Wirecast Pro 4. I knew this program was going to recognise the webcam only if the sensor really, truly was a 1080p sensor with the associated pixel size ratio. Unfortunately, the webcam has square pixels — just like any webcam — and Wirecast didn’t recognise the Cinema Studio for wat it was. The software just showed a 4:3 pixel ratio.

I did not test the Cinema Studio with Skype or any other chat application. My goal was to see how it performed when using it as a cheap replacement for videocasting. Although the QuikcTime Player and BoinxTV tests both ran fine, I don’t think you can use the Cinema Studio too well for videocasting. When the light conditions change even slightly, the webcam adapts its brightness. This process takes a couple of seconds dring which you’ll see brightness go through what looks like a cycle.

Furthermore, changing position results in the webcam adapting its focus. That too is quite visible and apparently a result from built-in face detection functionality. Since you need Microsoft’s Windows-based software to control the Cinema Studio, there’s no option to turn any of these features off. Running the software under VMWare’s Fusion or Parallel Desktop won’t do you much good either, because the settings go lost as soon as you switch environments.

The bottom line is that Logitech’s Vision Pro webcam for the Mac is a better buy if you want to create videocasts on a shoestring budget. That webcam has none of the sophistication the latest models seem to have. Under Windows 7, the Cinema Studio runs like a charm. It’s a great webcam with great features. Microsoft (and that goes for Logitech as well) not making good control software for the Mac is a pity. The Cinema Studio costs approx. 100.00 Euros.

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