Higher frame rate with Microsoft LifeCam and Linux

The Microsoft LifeCam is a versatile USB Webcam family which is supported well in Ubuntu Linux. Unfortunately it records HD videos only at low fps, but there is a workaround to get high resolution with 30 fps.

  1. Install guvcview
  2. Open guvcview, switch to the Video Controls tab and pick the LifeCam
  3. Select 30/1 fps in the Frame Rate
  4. Select 1280×720 in Resolution
  5. Select BGR3-BGR3 in Camera Output
  6. Switch to image controls
  7. Disable all auto features (White Balance, Power Line Frequency, Autofocus etc)

The preview window should now show a smooth, high-resolution video. Re-enable auto-features disabled in (8) as needed, keeping an eye on the frame rate.

Explanation

(3) Frame Rate: setting this to 30/1 fps is kind of self-explanatory. Note that this setting isn’t sufficient; without changing the other settings this will result in a variable frame rate between 10-20 fps.

(4) Unfortunately the slightly higher resolution (1280×800) allows only 10 fps

(5) This one was a surprise. The camera seems to have a preferred output mode; anything else reduces the fps, presumably because of an on-the-fly conversion which taxes the GPU?

(7) I found that with my model the Power Line Frequency setting caused the frame rate to drop significantly, maybe because of an on-board video processing which slows down the camera GPU.

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