Blue Microphones enters the world of webcams with a rough first try. (August 9th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Blue Microphones
- Good audio quality for any webcam.
- Cool, hideaway design.
- Low quality video and still photos.
- Expensive for what you get in visuals.
Blue Microphones first foray into the world of consumer video products is with the Eyeball webcam. Blue Microphones is best known for its audiophile quality recording microphones used by recording stars such as Bob Dylan and Lil' Wayne; many of their professional makes, however, have prices well into the four digits. The Eyeball is one of its few devices to dip below $100. The Eyeball packs a unique design and a hide-away camera lens, but whether the audio and video quality stand up to Blue Microphones' reputation is the real test for our review.
design and setup
The eyeball is an interesting design concept. The entire webcam is shaped like a giant microphone, with the video lens popping out of the left side of the microphone. The microphone and lens unit are connected to a folding clip that allows the entire webcam to be easily attached to an LCD display or notebook. For travel purposes, the entire unit can be folded shut with a plastic cover and the USB cable can be enclosed within. It's a truly unique design and arguably one of the key selling points, even if few would admit to being drawn to the looks.
Installation and usage of the webcam is extremely simple. The driverless webcam is truly plug and play. Our Windows XP test system immediately recognized both the webcam and the USB audio microphone. As soon as the Eyeball was plugged in, we were able to take photo captures, record audio through the microphone, and shoot videos. Later versions of Windows as well as Mac OS X are also supported and should be just as simple to get up and running.
The unit has a sturdy build and seems very well constructed. The USB connection is located on the back of the webcam and uses a traditional USB micro connector. We especially enjoyed the hideaway camera lens. With the firm push of a finger the lens is safely tucked away inside the unit. If the Eyeball ever ends up in a James Bond film, though, it will be for its audio recording abilities rather than any claims of stealthiness or visual output, as we'll soon find out.
We put the Eyeball through three tests. The first test was using the Eyeball to take still shots like a tethered digital camera. The second test was an audio-only test where we recorded various sounds and recordings, and the final test relied on YouTube's webcam for uploading videos instantaneously from a webcam.
In practice, we found the audio quality impressive but the visual quality sorely lacking. The Eyeball claims to sport an HD lens but our test shots look anything but high definition; a close read finds that you only get a full 30 frames per second at 640x480, not unlike most mid-range webcams. We recorded everything from our own voices to music being played back from a set of computer speakers and found the Eyeball did a great job of recording the audio. Playback of our recordings came back clear and without any noticeable echo or artifacting. Video and still shot testing was not as impressive. We took several over a dozen still shots of a stack of DVDs and the picture below was our best result for a static image: there's visible pixelation as well as less-than-ideal contrast and exposure.
For video testing we uploaded a handful of short videos to YouTube. The videos are taken several feet from a small color TV playing broadcast versions of The Mummy and Top Gun. The videos really tell the whole story. The audio from the movie comes in clearly, while the picture suffers from slow exposure correction, block artifacting due to a low bitrate, and overall poor quality.
The eyeball retails for $100, but whether or not that price is a strong value depends entirely on your intended uses. For those who are concerned with the absolute best quality in audio recording from a webcam, the Eyeball could be a good choice. However, if you care at all about picture quality you may want to look elsewhere for your webcam needs. For podcasters or individuals that need a USB audio microphone the Eyeball could double as a second-rate webcam while serving as a primary, quality audio recording device.
For now, we'd recommend that Blue sticks to audio recording, where it clearly can produce an excellent product; the company's audio-only Snowball has earned praise of its own, and for good reason. The video portion of the Eyeball, though, produces results we would have expected from years-old products and makes this a rather expensive proposition better served by webcams that don't quite have the audio mastery but produce a cleaner picture.