MSI StarCam

Introduction

Since the internet was created, it’s brought people closer. Then broadband came along and opened the door to streaming video and webcams. Today I have the MSI StarCam which includes a microphone meaning it should contain everything for you to chat, wave or dance to your long distance buddies.

Specs

The Versatile Clamp allows the StarCam Clip to attach to the Notebook Panel or to stand on the top of CRT monitor and sit on the desktop.

Features

• Capture 1.3 Mega Pixels Photos
• Deluxe GLASS Lens Clarity
• Plug-&-Talk Built-in USB Microphone
• Click & Snap Snapshot Button
• Adjustable Focus Lens
• Multi-lingual Software & Driver Installation : Chinese, Dutch, English, French, Italian, Japanese, German, Portugese, Spanish, Russian
• Special effect for fun and digital zoom

The StarCam; not for paparazzi

MSI StarCam
MSI StarCam

Packaged in a simple box, the StarCam is visible through the front plastic window. On the rear of box shows that this camera is compatible with all of today’s most popular instant messaging clients.

MSI StarCam

Inside the box you find the camera itself, a USB cable, documentation and the driver CD. The CD includes My Guard which is a simple program allowing you to use the webcam as a rudimentary security camera.

The USB cable is more than adequate for laptop use, although you might need a USB extension cable for a full blown PC.

The webcam has a sliding clip that allows you to attach it to your laptop screen, but not to a standard desktop TFT or CRT. This gives me the impression that this is designed for laptops only and not for the desktop market. That said, the clip is quite heavy and can be used free standing or you can even clip it onto your keyboard.

MSI StarCam
MSI StarCam

The front of the camera has a removable clear facia which fits around the manual focus knob, the three infra red (night vision) LED’s and the microphone hole. On the top of the camera is the shutter button which allows you to take still shots.

MSI StarCam

The bottom part of the camera has a ball and socket joint which allows you to till the camera up and down and rotate horizontally, but not to tilt the camera from side to side. The ball part is made of rubber which does a good job of holding the camera in position once set. The USB cable plugs directly into the movable part which means that the cable pulls the camera down slightly. It would have been better if the cable plugged into the clip and then wires went up the ball/socket joint, although this wouldn’t have looked as good.

MSI StarCam

Installation

To install the StarCam, you simply have to plug the camera in and pop in the driver CD. After running through the driver installation everything should work.

I tried the My Guard program, which is rather poorly skinned and looks a little childish as a result but the picture didn’t show up, which is more than likely due to the horrendous amount of video codecs installed on this machine.

MSI StarCam

The program allows you to alert you via email at a user set interval if the camera detects movement. You can also set it up to record the action if you need evidence.

It seems a bit of a gimmicky program with no real use, as if someone is going to steal something from you, they are more than likely going to nick the laptop that the camera is attached to. Although I’m sure someone can find a use for it.

Whilst clipping the camera onto your laptop isn’t installation as such, its insanely easy and is much better than any other camera that I have used. Most require you to tape, balance or otherwise position the camera in the right place, this just requires you to clip it on.

MSI StarCam
MSI StarCam

Testing
To test the StarCam I used Windows Live Messenger and started webcamming (real word?) with someone in the Middle East to make sure that distance wasn’t a problem. I also did a quick test in the office using the latest version of Skype and Messenger, with Whoopty sat just 3 meters away.

I asked my beautiful assistant in the sandy country to describe the quality of the webcam as I was under the impression that she would know more about webcamming than me. Unfortunately I was greeted with ‘quite fuzzy’ and ‘bit dark’. Obviously not the most descriptive opinions… The frame rate was good and the picture sharp (at least at my end and in the office test). The colours were a little off however.

MSI StarCam
Me looking happy…

After playing with the settings to get the best colour in this environment (office, fluorescent lighting), I was able to get a much better picture. The default settings do a good job but a little human intervention was necessary.

The most interesting part of this camera are the infra red LED’s that allow you illuminate objects at night. Humans cannot see infra red, but camera CCD’s can and hence you can shine invisible light on something that the camera will be able to pick up on, even if your eyes can’t. The downside to this is that the picture is monotone, and not the normal black and white, but green and white. Having the infra red LED’s combats the problem of increasing the exposure to brighten the image as this results in slow frame rates and your movements aren’t smooth anymore. The night vision allows a lower exposure and hence higher frame rates.

MSI StarCam

As night fall was taking a while, I decided to build a fort in the office that would cut out of the light. I also turned the brightness of the laptops TFT to minimum. I didn’t have fun doing this, honest.

MSI StarCam

Once in my darkened bunker, I used Photoshop to grab webcam sized stills from the camera. There is a little light from the laptop screen so there is still colour on the picture but overall the LEDs did a good job. Another downside to infra red is that it makes your eyes look massive…

I also did another test where I took pictures of objects with the standard settings which include automatic adjustment. First up was a heatsink on the desk taken @ 800×600 resolution and then resized to fit on this page. Below it is the same image but with Photoshop’s auto-level filter applied. This shows that the camera has its contrast too low.

MSI StarCam
MSI StarCam

The second test was a picture taken of the entire office which has a lot more colour in it. Again an auto-levelled version is below.

MSI StarCam
MSI StarCam

The camera allows you to output still images at a max of 800×600 resolution, which appears to be interpolated from a lower res as there are edge artefacts.

While playing with the settings, I found that there are several interesting filters that you can apply to the video stream. Including sniper frame (your head is in the bullseye of the scope) and security camera footage. These are quite fun to use and are a little extra to the normal webcam software. There is also the option to import your own frame if you want even more customisation.

MSI StarCam
MSI StarCam
MSI StarCam

While the filters are interesting to use, I doubt that they would be useful in the real world when you trying to video conference with someone.

The StarCam has a built in microphone that I tested using Skype. The voice quality is as clear as you would expect from a small directional microphone. The microphone doesn’t pick up sound very well apart from right in front of it, which is useful for people who use speakers and not headphones.

Conclusion

The StarCam is great for the laptop owner, with its purpose designed TFT clip, small size and integrated microphone. The rather unorthodox design is a refreshing change from the standard ball on triangle approach. The inclusion of the night vision infra red LED’s are far from the ordinary and add a little extra to this already great product.

The quality is good for such a small camera, and perfect for video calls, but the still image quality isn’t going to replace your digital SLR any time soon.

ProsCons
Small sizeShort cable
Night visionStill image quality poor

Integrated microphone

I’d like to thank MSI for providing us with the webcam.

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