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MSI StarCam 370i
Web Cameras | First Looks
Sun 04 Sep 2005



A Watchful Eye





"For webcasting and online chatting, the MSI StarCam 370i fits the bill perfectly."
 

   

 
A raw, unedited image taken with the StarCam 370i.

 
You can still make out the CD, thanks to the IR lights.

 
Little Brother is watching.

Ever wondered which of your colleagues are dipping into your cookie stash while you are away from your desk? Now you can catch that miscreant in the act and watch him squirm in his seat, when you show him the video. While web cameras have been around for some time, they have been used mostly for webcasting and keeping in touch with distant friends and relatives. It also didn't take too long before people started using them for surveillance purposes. Given this context, you shouldn't be surprised that MSI is now introducing a second version of its web camera, the StarCam 370i.

Enhanced with Infrared Night Vision

Capable of capturing photos with a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 (or up to 1280x1024 interpolated), the MSI StarCam 370i improves on its predecessor by having three infrared lights that allows it to capture images even in pitch darkness. Presumably the night vision feature is to complement the usage of the 370i for surveillance or voyeuristic purposes, as we really couldn't think of any reason why anyone would require night vision normally.

For webcasting and online chats, the MSI StarCam 370i fits the bill perfectly. Anchored by a quirky looking foot of a base, the camera is molded into a retro-looking diving helmet shape and its long 'neck' can be contorted into various positions. So you can twist it until you get that right angle but beware that the base is not that weighty and the camera is liable to topple for some extreme poses. In any case, this is definitely the most flexible web camera we've come across and it's a feature we've really grown to like. 

The image quality was found to be rather grainy, but we expected that since the image sensor used is really entry-level. However, you can adjust the various settings on the fly, like gamma, contrast, saturation and they are immediately reflected on the MSI utility's preview screen before taking that snap. Besides still images, you can choose live video feeds, which is augmented by the integrated USB microphone. This is an omni-directional microphone with decent sound quality. Finally, installation of this USB plug and play device was also a relatively simple affair with the given MSI drivers. 

Watchdog Program

The surveillance capability of the StarCam 370i is one of the features highly touted by MSI and this is enabled by the VideoSecurity utility included. Initially, we had the utility crashing on us frequently on our test system. Fortunately, the program worked properly on another machine, though we have yet to ascertain the cause. Basically, the web camera can be configured to detect motion within its field of vision and alert users of any potential disturbances, either through an audio cue or an email. There are five preset 'areas' for detection so users can choose if they want to observe the whole room or just part of it. Users can also configure the web camera to record the disturbance but we must first warn you that depending on quality, this may take up a substantial amount of disk space.
 
To conclude, the MSI StarCam 370i is a decent and versatile web camera for those jumping onto the webcasting bandwagon, and MSI has put together some useful security features, including a pretty unique night vision capability that we'll leave to your imagination as to its potential uses.

Product Specifications

  • Camera Lens: 1/4-inch Mini Lens, Color CMOS Image Sensor

  • Capture Resolution: Up to 640 x 480 (interpolated 1280x1024)

  • Lens Wide Angle: 56 Degrees Diagonal
  • Focus Distance: 3cm-infinity
  • Video Capture: 30fps@352 x 288, 15fps@640 x 480
  • Led Light: 3 bright white LED lights
  • Infrared Light: Up to 2 meters effective
  • Image Format: RGB24

  • Power Consumption: 260mw typical

  • I/O Interface: USB 1.1, Full Speed

  • Integrated Microphone