It’s 2010 and video chatting has been practically mainstream for 10+ years. You would think by now we would be able to video chat with our loved ones in high definition. Well, finally, we can: FaceVsion’s TouchCam N1 delivers 720p High Definition Video Calling supported by Skype. This USB webcam features a wide-angle auto focus lens, dual microphones, and built-in H.264 encoder for a superior video chat experience. TouchCam N1 is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, and 7 (sorry Mac users). Best of all is the easy installation–TouchCam N1 is plug & play; no drivers required.
The TouchCam N1 has a brilliant design. It’s appearance is very professional; it resembles the design of a MacBook Pro (which is ironic, because there is no Mac support). The TouchCam has a large lens with two microphones on either side. The face of the TouchCam appears to be solid black, but upon close inspection it’s actually more of a carbon fiber finish. There is a mini USB input on the back of the camera for USB connectivity. The cord is universal and detachable so you can affordably purchase a short cable if you don’t like the extra slack, or a long cable if you want to distance your cam from your computer. The built-in stand really adds to TouchCam’s functional design. It has two swivel points, making the webcam very adjustable and flexible in positioning. TouchCam can be effortlessly raised and lowered, and it’s shooting angle can be vertically adjusted just as easily. Below the lens and faceplate is a clear plastic extension with FaceVsion branding. This clear piece of plastic hangs over the top of your laptop enabling you to easily mount the TouchCam above your laptop display. TouchCam’s stand pushes off the back of the laptop, and by adjusting the stand, you can adjust the angle in which the camera sits on top of your laptop. A+ for design, FaceVsion.
The set up is super easy. Connect the Mini-USB to the back of the camera and the other end to your computer. Now install the latest version of Skype (version 4.2 or higher) and you should be ready to go! If you’re using Windows 7 you should download the latest version of Skype and then install the Windows Hotfix that comes with TouchCam (this was not a necessary step during my Windows 7 installation experience). If your laptop already has a webcam you will want to set TouchCam as your default camera in the Skype settings.
FaceVsion’s TouchCam N1 is built with some impressive hardware for a webcam. It features 720p video recording with an effective pixel resolution of 1280×800. It records 22 frames per second (FPS) at 1280×720 with H.264. It can record 30 FPS at 768×480 with YUV. What’s unique about FaceVsion is that it’s one of the only webcams with an embedded H.264 codec chip. This chip takes the video processing strain off of your computer and allows for a more seamless and less processor-intensive video experience. There are two embedded microphones on TouchCam and they use a technique called beamforming to achieve excellent audio. Beamforming processes a directional signal from undirectional microphones. TouchCam’s lens is an auto focus wide-angle lens with a 78 degree field of vision. The webcam’s stand is extremely functional allowing for easy height and angle adjustment of the camera. Touchcam can also easily mount on top of your laptop’s display.
The difference between a regular laptop webcam (VGA) and the FaceVsion TouchCam is night and day. TouchCam provides a much clearer and crisper image. It displays a wider range of colors which are much more accurate and vivid. The field of vision is also noticeably larger on TouchCam when comparing them. Skype automatically adjusts the image quality based on a number of factors. To get the most out of your camera you need at least a 512kb/s internet connection and a core 2 duo processor or faster. Skype may also lower the resolution if too many processes are running, too many USB devices are attached, or if lighting is poor. If the conditions are not met for high quality video chats, Skype will downgrade you to medium quality. Medium quality still looked better than the standard VGA laptop webcam, but not it’s not as crisp and clear as high quality. High quality video looked amazing for a webcam, but it didn’t feel like “720p”, or at least it didn’t feel like the 720p qualityin HD movies that a lot of us are used to. Skype adjusts the stream quality during the video chat; it changes if PC load or internet connection changes. I was unable to stream high quality video on my Acer Aspire One netbook because of its lack of processing power. This was unfortunate because TouchCam has a built in H.264 encoder which is supposed to compensate for slow computers. But I had no problem using it with my unibody MacBook running Windows 7 on Bootcamp. With a solid internet connection, the video streaming is very fluid with TouchCam. Movements were all surprisingly smooth in medium and high quality modes. The video was not choppy, although every couple of minutes or so I experienced a second or two of choppiness and then right back to smoothness. The microphones do a great job of transmitting voice; it sounds clear and isolated. It reduces a lot of background noise. If the user is too far from the microphone there may be a small amount of echo, but in most instances this was not an issue.
It’s nice that TouchCam doesn’t require any software or drivers before you can start using it right away, but at the same time it would be nice to have software to tweak settings, or offer additional features like using TouchCam as a security camera. Skype and FaceVsion worked together to design this 720p HD webcam; it’s unfortunate that TouchCam won’t stream HD video over any other platforms like AIM or GTalk at the moment. Lastly, to avoid confusion: TouchCam only works with Windows OS, but the chat recipient can be using Skype 4.2+ from any operating system (including Mac).
FaceVsion’s TouchCam is one of the few web cameras out there to support HD video chatting. It also features a quality microphone that eliminates the need for an external desk mic. The autofocus wide angle lens delivers a beautiful field of view. The built in H.264 encoder is convenient because it takes a lot of processing strain off of your laptop. But even with the H.264 encoder you will still need to make sure that your laptop meets all of the required conditions to truly take advantage of full 720p video streaming. FaceVsion TouchCam costs $119.99, so if every one of its features is not essential, you can probably get away with purchasing a less expensive webcam. TouchCam would be perfect for office type environments. HD is a luxury for video chatting at the moment; in a year or so we’ll reassess the situation and see how badly we need it as regular consumers. FaceVsion’s TouchCam N1 is currently available from the FaceVsion website.
Good: HD video streaming, built in H.264 encoder, high quality microphone, great stand/design
Bad: Only works with Skype, needs fast computer for 720p streaming, pricey for personal use
Update 09/13/2010: The TouchCam N1 can actually work on a Mac too, but only as a VGA webcam. Also, the N1 actually needs a 1.2Mbit/sec internet connection to maintain a 720P video call.