It’s A Small World 

Add together equal measures of scientific exploration and computer interaction with a dash of curiosity, fun and creativeness could well result in a product from Digital Blue
Digital Blue USB computer microscope

The product QX5 Computer Microscope has been specifically developed to allow children to explore a world of small creatures and other items without too much fuss or mess.  This kit consists of a cylindrical shaped microscope with a permanently attached USB lead; a stand with a moveable tray for holding specimens; and software for displaying and adding special effects to the images.  Also included is a lab kit made up of two containment dishes, tweezers, a sample slide and clip.  You will need to install the software before attaching the microscope to a computer via the USB lead.  As this lead is a rather generous 240cm in length, there should be no problem with positioning the microscope whether being used with the stand or in handheld mode.

Turning a collar on the body of the microscope allows you to switch between 10x, 60x and 200x magnification.  However as the visual quality of the graphics is entrenched in VGA standard, you should not expect state-of-the-art images no matter how good you might consider your graphics card is capable of producing.  The effect of the VGA limitation is more noticeable when using the higher magnification.

As well as changing the magnification level, you also have a degree of control over focusing.  Depending upon whether the microscope is being used on the stand or in handheld mode, a different method will be required for adjusting the focus.  In handheld mode you will need to physically move the microscope towards or away from the subject matter while a couple of knobs on the stand perform a similar task by lowering or raising the tray holding the specimen.  Neither method is particularly accurate but should suffice for most tasks.

Still images or video clips of specimens can be captured.  In handheld mode this is achieved by pressing a button on the microscope while on-screen controls are a better choice when the microscope is mounted on the stand.  Once captured, this content can be taken into a separate module that allows for additional work to be carried out.  There are tools for viewing images and videos; applying special effects; accessing fun paint options that include using a stamp feature to add clip art, fill areas with a colour or pattern, plus insert text in a range of sizes and styles.  You can create a slideshow with accompanying music; export content in either JPG or WMV format; plus sent items to a printer.

Overall the results achieved using this microscope were fine.  It may not produce images of the highest visual quality but it is easy to use and has an interesting range of features that will appeal to children from the age of six onwards.  Having said that, there were a couple of niggles with this product.  The microscope would only be recognised on the test system if it was present at boot-up time.  Attaching the microscope once Windows was running would result in a "device not found" message.  There could also a problem, for those running a screen resolution greater than 800 x 600, when closing down the Digital Blue software.  Instead of returning you to your familiar desktop layout, the position of icons will have been rearranged to fit within the software's preferred 800 x 600 screen size.

The QX5 Computer Microscope will run on all Windows platforms from Me onwards.  You will need a 300MHz processor with 64MB of RAM and 300MB of available hard disk space.  Digital Blue has priced this children's scientific kit at £97 but I have seen it listed for much less than this so shop around.

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Comment by Gene Basler, 5 Jan 2011 23:43

I installed the software on Windows XP Pro a few years ago and immediately began having problems with Windows Explorer. "Windows Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to shut down", or something like that. I continued to use it and take some great pics and vids. As long as I used Picasa instead of Windows Explorer I was find, but it was a pretty serious glitch. I found the pic and vid quality to be inferior to the Celestron, but the Celestron takes really choppy video--to the point that it is unacceptable. If they have fixed the glitch that corrupted my WE, then I'd say it's great!

Comment by Jenny, 14 June 2009 23:46

We just used the Digital Blue today at the Science Festival at Glasgow University although it was being shown by a St Andrews University group. It seemed to be excellent particularly for kids to zoom in and look at pennies or at the computer screen to see the pixels in red green blue. Also to look at your skin and the hairs on it !  Those are the things we tried I am sure there are other things to try. Obviously it was already set up when we used it so I cant comment about that.

Comment by djam, 14 May 2008 3:08

There are a couple of issues you should be aware of before you purchase, use one of these QX5 Microscopes.

First is the 200x is really not usable without an external light source, the LEDs built in are just not bright enough.

If you run the software on large or high resolution monitors all your icons on the desktop will be moved to the used screen resolution of the device, 800x600 area. There is a fix for this, only you have to contact support to find out what to change, a note should be included with the device.

And last, the software can only operate in full screen mode, which means whatever your monitor(s) resolution is set to, it will be changed to 800x600, which also means you don't have access to other programs while this application is running. IMO this is not acceptable for an application running under Windows in 2008.

Had I known about these issues before I purchased it, I would not have bought it.

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