Video-conferencing is beyond most of us, but the TouchCam N1 takes simple internet video up a notch, says Hugh John

The faceVsion TouchCam N1The faceVsion TouchCam N1It’s questionable whether webcam technology has kept up with broadband speeds. This has kept video-conferencing an expensive, techie option, but faceVsion’s Touchcam N1 has brought it closer.

It's a brave move, because this small high-definition webcam, which comes to market when virtually every new laptop already has a basic webcam, is near the top of the price range (around £90). And now we are in a recession. Bad timing, or supreme confidence?

Having seen the TouchCam N1 demonstrated on the faceVsion stand at David Fanning's excellent technology preview event, Digital Winter, it’s tempting to go for the latter option. The camera was hooked up in real time to members of the the faceVsion team in Taipei, Taiwan, and it’s fair to say that even the grizzled corps of “show me what you’ve got” technology hacks was impressed.

Excellent HD (high definition) picture resolution and clear sound, immediately delivered, is a potent brew for users long accustomed to the irritating side effects of compression and buffering; jerky images, poor quality and sound drop-out.

How do they do that, you might ask? The simple answer is that video compression, normally handled, and often with great difficulty, by the computer's own processor, is built into the TouchCam unit. Less demand on the computer means smoother image frame transition.

Throw in a 78-degree wide angle lens (making it suitable for group communication), autofocus and built-in uni-directional microphones and you've got an impressive piece of kit that can take advantage of the HD image quality now offered by the likes of Skype and Windows Messenger while also allowing users to simultaneously run other software without the usual sluggishness associated with webcam use. In the hands of confident teachers they could do wonders for inter-school collaborations.

'Anyone who has seen it in use is unlikely to quibble at the price'

Set-up is simplicity itself. Just plug in and go. The only disappointment was on a Mac, which doesn't yet have a high-definition version of Skype. There was one small gripe however. While the build quality is impressive and the unit sits comfortably when mounted on a laptop, PC or, using the flat base, a desk, there's no horizontal swivel function between the base and the camera which means that the lens can be manipulated up and down but not sideways.

This is a webcam that takes internet video communication a confident step forward, visually and sonically, and anyone who has seen it in use is unlikely to quibble at the price. Interested? Be sure to check broadband and computer suitability (details from faceVsion below).

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose   5
Ease of use              5
Features                   4
Quality                      4
Value for money       4

faceVsion Touchcam N1

Quality high-definition webcam for Windows PC or Mac (check Mac compatibility with internet video service), around £90 from a range of suppliers.

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