The Moving Webcam: Logitech Orbit MP review

ReviewsDevin Balentina

Let’s face it, when we think of webcams most of us think of a $30 webcam that you get with the purchase of your PC. And most of the time it’s placed on top of your monitor.
Logitech hoped to change this image and make webcams ‘exciting’ again with the introduction of the Logitech Orbit webcam back in 2003. Today we will actually be looking at the third version of this product.

The most interesting part of this camera is its ability to mechanically pan and tilt…

Back in October 2003 they introduced the Logitech Orbit with its ability to take 1.3 Megapixel photos and videos at 640×480. It also had a mechanical pan and tilt feature allowing it to physically turn 128 degrees side-to-side (for an almost 180-degree horizontal view) and 54 degrees up-and-down (for an almost 90-degree vertical view).

In 2005 they updated its specs and gave it the Orbit MP name. It had the same design and almost the same specs as its predecessor, but Logitech added RightLight and RightSound Technology that improves video in different light conditions and removes echo in the audio. They also added a wide view lens, improved the mechanical pan and tilt feature by allowing it to cover 189 horizontal degrees and 102 vertical degrees of a room and gave it Hi-Speed USB certification.
On the software side, it got the Logitech Video Effects Software that allows the person using the webcam to transform into three-dimensional animated characters (Avatars) that mimic facial movements or to add accessories to their on-screen image, such as glasses or a crown.

This year they improved the Orbit MP again (although using the same name) by adding RightLight2 and RightSound2 Technology and support for HD video. Does the improved Orbit MP deliver? We will also directly compare this new version to the first Orbit model introduced back in 2003. Are the improvements notable? Read on to find out more.

Like always, let’s have a look at the specs:


Specifications

Enjoy optimal face time during your video calling or video instant messaging sessions.

* The QuickCam Orbit MP features motorized pan and tilt for intelligent face tracking, plus a true 1.3 megapixel image sensor for high quality pictures and video-even in low-light situations.
* Express yourself without having to stay ‘statue still’ thanks to Motorized Pan and Tilt with Intelligent Face Tracking.
* Experience sharpness like never before from the True 1.3 megapixel sensor, which provides superior quality images with twice the resolution of other webcams.
* Donet be left in the dark! RightLight technology, a new imaging system from Logitech, provides the most natural, realistic video images in virtually any lighting condition through the combination of high-performance sensors, state-of-the-art optics, and advanced image processing technology.
* Personalize your video experience. QuickCam Orbit MP includes Logitech(r)
* Video Effects with animated 3D Avatars (that imitate your facial expressions and head movements) and 2D Face Accessories (that you can apply to your own image to change your look). Logitech Video Effects avatars and face accessories are designed to work seamlessly with popular messaging programs for a truly unique experience.
* Enjoy clear, echo-free audio with RightSound technology. Have more natural conversations using either the built-in microphone or a headset.
* Experience full-screen video and synchronized audio with MSN(r) Messenger Video Conversation, or add live video to your favorite instant messenger program. QuickCam Orbit MP works with MSN(r) Messenger, AOL(r) Instant Messenger(tm) (AIM(r)), Yahoo!(r) Messenger, and Windows(r) Messenger.
* Take sharp, true 1.3 megapixel photos, up to 4.0 megapixels (software enhanced).
* Capture fluid video. QuickCam Orbit MP is USB 2.0 High Speed certified, and is also backward-compatible with USB 1.1-enabled systems.
* Works with these applications: Skype(tm), Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, AIM and Logitech VideoCall

System Requirements

* Windows 2000, XP
* CD-Rom drive
* Pentium P4 1.4 GHz or AMD Athlon processor 1 GHz (Pentium P4 2.4 GHz or better recommended*)
* 128MB RAM (256MB RAM recommended*)
* 200MB Free Hard Disk space
* 16-bit color display adaptor
* Windows compatible sound card and speakers (full duplex sound card recommended*) * Available 1.1 or 2.0 USB port (USB 2.0 High Speed port (Required for megapixel image capture)

* Recommended system requirements needed to use Logitech Video Effects or RightSound technology features.

Package Contents

* Logitech QuickCam Orbit MP with built-in mic
* 9′ stand
* Base
* QuickCam Software CD
* 6-foot USB cable
* Stereo headset
* High-quality 1.3 Megapixel sensor
* Camera set-up guide
* Audio set-up guide
* Two-year limited warranty


Design


The Orbit comes packaged in the now usual Logitech green and white theme. Overall the packaging looks good and simple and gives you enough info on the product features. The front of the package is clear so you can get an idea as to how the camera looks like. Visually the Orbit family looks stunning, stylish and sophisticated. The new Orbit MP consists of the Camera itself, base and 9” stand. The camera comes attached to the base and you can use the optional stand to elevate the camera to eye-level and add visual appeal. The entire webcam is finished in black: the camera module and the stand are finished in this glossy black color, while the top part of the base also sports this glossy black. Most surfaces on the base are finished with a black matte color with the Logitech logo in front.

The base also houses the built-in microphone. The Microphone opening itself is an almost invisible tiny hole at the bottom of the base. The front of the camera module is made of a clear plastic allowing you to see the circuitry inside the camera, the red light that turns on when the webcam is active and the white Logitech logo printed inside. Compared to the previous version the Orbit looks exactly the same, but further inspection shows that the lens does look different and the circuit board seen through the clear plastic is now in a black color compared to the green color used in the first model.

The most interesting part of this camera is its ability to mechanically pan and tilt. When the camera turns left and right, the entire camera module turn, when it moves up and down, only the lens module inside moves up and down. This is done almost silent, while the first orbit made a lot of noise when moving around. The movements are done in small stops, it would have been better of Logitech designed it so that it moves freely, without having to make these short stops. Overall the Logitech Orbit MP is one of the nicest looking webcams on the market and the overall build quality is way above your average plastic looking webcam.


Software and Installation

The Orbit MP comes with the usual QuickCam software, now at version 10. The old Orbit is still stuck at version 8.4.8. A quick check at the Logitech support site indicates that they included the latest version on the installation CD (at the time of writing). My usual complains apply here, the software is huge, taking about 200mb of hard drive space. Even worse is the fact that the installation adds about 5 services to the system startup. These things aren’t needed for the software to run properly, as I disabled them all freeing system resources and the software runs perfectly without these startup services. In the future Logitech needs to work on the amount of hard drive space needed for the installation, 200Mb seems excessive for a webcam. I also think it’s unnecessary to have these startup services, the fact that I disabled them and the software works flawless proves this point. This is something that especially gamers would appreciate.

On the other hand the QiuckCam software by itself doesn’t require much of the available system resources to run and is a vast improvement over previous QuickCam versions: both in ease-of-use, layout and simplicity. Logitech really has mad a lot of improvements on the software itself. When the software is opened the main program and a small webcam icon appears in the notification area.The main program acts like a shortcut bar allowing you to quickly access program features and settings. The program itself is very small and narrow taking very little desktop space, making it ideal to work next to other open applications. It includes the QuickCapture feature to take quick self-portraits and videos. The other icons can be used in conjunction with your preferred program or QuickCapture.

Beneath the QuickCapture icon you will find the Video Effects that includes Avatars and video accessories, control of the Privacy Shade, the webcam settings, shortcut for all the compatible video calling application like Skype and Windows Live! Messenger. There is also a button to toggle between video and picture. Overall the software looks simple and is easy to understand. Logitech made a wise decision in creating a program that takes very little desktop space allowing it to easily sit on the desktop next to other open applications. A lot of companies forget about this and design software that takes the entire screen or at least a big part of it, just to accommodate all the features. I also liked the fact that Logitech put a built-in software updater.


Avatars, Video Accessories and Privacy shade

With the Orbit MP Logitech included a slew of nifty looking video effects. As they put it:
‘With a Logitech Video Effects Avatar, you can choose a character that becomes your online identity. Avatars track the movement of your face during a video conversation: smile, and your avatar smiles. Frown, and your avatar frowns! Tilt your head, and your avatar mimics your every movement. Add glasses, a mustache, a hat or a crown to your image! Video Effects face accessories use the same fundamental technology as the avatars so that the accessory moves with you. Unlike the avatars, the original source video is kept intact and the animated accessory is overlaid on top of the image.’
Some of the included Avatar/video accessories and how the final effect looks like:

The software comes with preinstalled Avatars and video accessories, but more can be downloaded at the Logitech website. I tried both of these features and they work really well, as long as the light conditions are right and the camera can pinpoint where your face is. I did set the webcam in less than ideal light conditions and most of the time webcam l managed to imitate my facial expressions with the Avatar, placing the accessories on my face and move them when I moved. I did find that wearing glasses confuses the system. The monitor light reflects on your glasses and this in some way confuses the system. When this happens the accessories just hangs there until the system can properly track your face. To use the Avatar feature the software requires you to do a calibration before usage. This is to make sure that your eyes, lips and eye brows are properly aligned with those of the avatar, calibration for the accessories is not needed.

A particular feature I liked was the Privacy shade. When activated it puts an image where the video would normally be, this is handy when you quickly need privacy without having to stop your webcam session.

Daily Usage

I’ve had the Orbit for a few weeks now and it is a very nice looking camera, family and friends are always commenting on how nice it looks or just asking what it really is. I have to agree that this is one of the best looking webcams on the market and it really added a nice touch to my desktop space, especially with its all black design. The placement on the 9” stand makes sense as it sits properly at eye level as compared with sitting on top of a monitor where it’s always slightly higher and also risks falling down. Some of the new webcams, including a few from Logitech have some kind of an attachment to put it on top of flat panel display; this is something the Orbit MP lacks. This isn’t really deal-breaker as it can always be place on the 9” stand, but more placement options are always appreciated.

The video quality of the Orbit MP is outstanding, one of the best video quality I’ve seen on a webcam, very impressive. This is not much of an improvement from the original Orbit as its quality was already high. The difference comes from the RightLight2 technology. It indeed made videos in dark conditions better or corrected conditions where extreme backlighting can make the face look dark. A quick check in the software showed that the RightLight2 technology actively adjust the settings to achieve the proper light conditions, as it adjusts low light boost, video noise, light saturation and spot metering. The colors also seem truer and less ‘dull’ compared to the first Orbit model. Another noticeable improvement is the wide-angle lens used. On the first model you could easily get away with a messy background while chatting, but with the new Orbit MP a wide area is captured, including a large portion behind you. Messy backgrounds aside, this is useful, especially while doing multi-party chat sessions, no more squeezing together to get in the picture. When the Orbit starts tracking you, you have to just sit for a moment and be amazed by this feature, it did work 89%
of the time. In some cases where the light conditions are not right due to either having too much light or being in a dark room the camera will have difficulty tracking you and will sit there until it can track you again. To be honest this isn’t really the cameras fault as less ideal condition prohibits it from distinguishing your face from other object. The RightLight2 does indeed try to fix these problems, but it can do this up to a certain extent as in extreme conditions it can’t do miracles. In a well-lit room the camera will work 100% of the time. Obviously some people like to use their webcam in really dark conditions; you can just turn of the tracking feature and use the software to manually adjust the position of the webcam. I found that the light emitted from the monitor in a dark room is enough to get you a very decent picture or video quality.

Not much can be said about the sound, the sound is clear and most importantly the echo problem with the first Orbit has been corrected. The first webcam did pick up the sound from the speakers creating a nasty echo; thankfully this has been addressed with the Orbit MP. The Orbit has a zoom feature, but it uses digital zoom. So basically it just enlarging and cropping the picture and obviously lowering the quality of the picture or video. I don’t think I ever heard of a webcam with optical zoom and auto focus, but if I could add features to this webcam, those two are the ones I would add. Can you say Orbit MP 2? (With optical zoom and auto focus, Logitech are you reading this?)


Conclusion

Like most Logitech products the built quality is exceptional, quality materials have been used and the overall fit/finish of the product is topnotch. Obviously design is a strong part of the Orbit MP, it is one of the best looking webcams on the market, the idea of using a 9” stand is simple yet effective and adds a lot to the design.

Two of the most important aspects of a webcam mainly audio and video is where the Orbit MP excels. The video is outstanding and the correcting abilities of RightLight 2 creates great looking video where in the past you would get too much light or the video would be too dark. The wide angle lens is also very useful for a chat session where the entire family is involved. The audio part wasn’t left behind. The audio is clear and luckily the echo created by the sound of your speakers being picked up, has been removed. The tracking capability of the Orbit MP is a useful and a unique feature, the light conditions have to be good or at least close for it to work properly. The Avatars and video accessories are a unique addition to the Orbit and depending on your taste sometimes very fun. Their effectiveness, like the mechanical tracking ability depends on the light conditions the webcam is in. The software part is less strong, taking too much space and creating unnecessary startup system services. The software itself has been vastly improved and looks simple. In my opinion this is the best webcam out there, its only true limitation is the less-able mechanical tracking in less-than-ideal light conditions. If Logitech can fix this, this camera will surely get an above 9 score, but until that happens it gets a good score of 8.9 out of 10.

Pros

-Best webcam on the market: due to great overall package/design/features
-Excellent video quality and audio
-Software built-in web update
-Fun avatars and accessories feature
-Design is unique/looks nice

Cons

-Installation adds a lot start up services
-Installation is huge
-Some tracking problems in difficult light condition

Written by Devin

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