Within the shroud of a darkened room, Razer’s latest webcam offering, the Kiyo, looks like some sort of lunar eclipse. With a ring-shaped light encircling the camera’s lens, the Kiyo has one of the most distinctive designs to arrive in years. And the impressive thing is that the Razer Kiyo ring light design isn’t just there to impress you; it’s a form that follows function.
The concept is as old as the dressing room mirrors of the vaudeville era. The idea is to achieve soft lighting directed expressly at the face to illuminate human features even in dim surroundings, and to do so without another piece of equipment. The Kiyo was clearly designed as an all-in-one webcam for live streamers and gamers, and it’s an intriguing idea.
Importantly, the unusual design is just one facet of a webcam that can compete with its rivals on clarity–if not always prevail–and, though it’s a large unit, on ease of use.
The Razer Kiyo Ring Light
The defining characteristic of the Kiyo is that ring light. The webcam’s glowing ring houses 12 individual lights that allow it to generate 12 levels of brightness. It’s the only webcam to feature a built-in light of such complexity, and it potentially does away with the need to supply a peripheral device to sit alongside your webcam and further clutter your laptop or desktop.
Well, it would if it weren’t so (relatively) large. The Kiyo’s circumference takes up more space than a comparable cam, such as the Logitech C922, and its heavy base can encroach on the screen of a device with a thin edge. It is equipped to attach to a tripod, but that will cost you extra, as it doesn’t ship with one.
From what we hear, though, the ring light does illuminate the face well, even if it will also chase the shadows away from the immediate scenery behind you. There’s no background replacement available with this model, so you’ll just have to be wary of what secrets you have hovering in the presumed darkness.
The ring light would fall into mere novelty, however, if the camera within it couldn’t keep pace with its nearest rivals–which it does.
Logitech’s Twin Rivals
Razer’s biggest competition in the gaming webcam market comes from long-time peripherals maker Logitech. The company has two fairly new cams aimed at the gamers of the world, the C922 and the more ambitious Brio (the older Logitech C920 is also much-loved by gamers).
Both the C922 and the Brio can match the Kiyo’s top-end performance of 1080p streaming at 30 frames per second, and (still considered HD) 780p at 60fps. In fact, the Brio is one of the first consumer-grade webcams to supply 4K ultra-HD streaming, which it can also provide at 30fps.
Of course, not all specs are created equal, and you must look at each cam in action to judge the blur, grain, and noise each generates while trying to maintain a quick frame rate. The Kiyo is not quite blown out of the water by its Logitech rivals in the clarity stakes, although the Brio’s high dynamic range hardware gives it the best image quality we’ve ever seen in an affordable webcam.
In the comparisons we’ve seen, the Kiyo seems to do better in low light conditions than the C922, regardless of whether the ring light is on. On the other hand, we’ve also heard from a lot of users that the Kiyo’s autofocus can be iffy at best, sometimes forcing users to adjust the focus manually to sharpen the image. Still, the Kiyo is no novelty item; the camera can hold its own against Logitech’s offerings. Yet, for the Kiyo, the ring light is its distinguishing feature–the reason Razer presumably thinks many users will find the webcam tempting enough to buy. So what’s the verdict on the glowing ring?
Stare into the Light
Personally, I see the Kiyo’s glowing halo as something of a distraction. I know it’s intended for use by gamers hidden away in dark rooms, fighting virtual wars well past their bedtimes, but I think that makes it more troublesome. We’re guessing the line of thought behind this was that gamers tend to have their focus directed at the on-screen action rather than worrying about looking into the camera to make direct eye contact. In a dimly lit room, though, no matter where you’re looking that ring could become a spotlight searing down on you, adding to the already eye-ache-inducing glare of the computer screen.
The purpose of the Kiyo’s light–to illuminate the face–and the fact that it is immovably attached to the webcam means that whenever it is on, the light is pointed at your face. This might be an incredibly handy feature for some–perhaps those who live stream in a well-lit room but could use an extra boost of illumination on their face–but for many others, including myself, it seems like a recipe for exhausted eyes and the feeling of being a deer trapped in the headlights.
So we’ll conclude that Kiyo is a worthy challenger to Logitech’s repeatedly praised webcams–but there’s much more to a gaming cam than built-in lighting.