The installation process wasn't smooth on either of the two Vista systems I used for testing. Using a Sony VAIO NR160 laptop, the drivers failed to install correctly. I had to navigate around a couple error messages and had to install the drivers from Creative's Website before I received a full complement of the Live Cam software suite and got it to recognize the camera. With a Dell Inspiron 1420, the installation process went off without a hitch, but soon after, the Live Cam software stopped recognizing the Live Cam Optia AF and listed the laptop's integrated Web as my only option. I had to uninstall and reinstall the software to get it working again. I experienced neither problem with the Creative Live Cam Notebook Ultra, and I had no problems installing any of the Logitech or the Microsoft Webcams I've tested recently.
Another small glitch I found with the software was finding a way to record video at a resolution higher than 640x480. Higher resolutions weren't listed as options until I selected 1,600x1,200 for a still photography and then went back to the Video Recording tab. And even then, the eight available resolutions were listed in no particularly order.
Successfully installing the bundled software means scattering a bunch of apps all over your PC. In addition to the Live Cam Console--the main application for recording video, taking still shots, and adjusting the settings--you'll install separate Photo Manager and Photo Calendar apps and Live Cam Doodling and Video FX apps along with third-party app Muvee autoProducer for creating short movies with autogenerated effects and edits. You're also prompted to download Orb (for remote access) and SightSpeed (a video-enabled instant messenger). I'd prefer it if the Photo apps were included in the Live Cam Console or left out all together, and I can't see anyone using SightSpeed when Skype is a better video-messaging app and more widespread. And both Orb and SightSpeed are free downloads, whether or not you own a Create Webcam.
You can use Orb in conjunction with the Live Cam Optia AF's surveillance features. Remote monitoring lets you set up the camera to record video at set intervals, and motion detection operates similarly, but video is recorded when the camera senses movement--your dog stealing a nap on the couch or a co-worker swiping your yogurt from the office fridge that's clearly marked with your name! The Orb app lets you access the video feed from any Web-enabled device. Alternatively, you can upload images from remote monitoring to an FTP site, and you can have the files created from motion detection e-mailed to you. The time-lapse video feature should really be called time-lapse photography. With it, you can set up the Webcam to take a picture at a defined interval (every 20 seconds, 2 hours, what have you), which it then stitches together in a WMV file. If you want to watch the grass grow with a Webcam, this feature is for you.
Creative calls the Live Cam Optia AF the world's first auto-focus Webcam, and while that may have been true when it was released in May, it's not the only Webcam to boast this feature now. The Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 features auto-focus, and I found it actually worked a bit better than the Live Cam Optia AF. The Logitech cam was smoother in zooming in or out to refocus on my bobbing and weaving head. And as I found with the Creative Live Cam Notebook Ultra, the face-tracking was more miss than hit, resulting in wild, unpredictable zooms and pans that were slow to refocus. You're better off disabling this feature. Creative also gives you a host of video effects, which are fun to experiment with, from various backdrop overlays to avatars to generally goofy effects, including a Live Doodle feature that lets you draw on your video visage.
In addition, the QuickCam Pro 9000 features Logitech RightLight technology, which produces a well-balanced, properly exposed image under a variety of lighting conditions. The Live Cam Optia AF produced an acceptable image under favorable lighting conditions, but it struggled in low light conditions. In a dimly lit room or when seated in front of a brightly lit window, the Logitech camera brightened the image to remove the shadow from my face, whereas the Creative cam could produce only a grainy, silhouetted image of my mug. For one-man Webcam shows, you'll get much better-looking videos from the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000.
Creative backs the Live Cam Optia AF with a one-year warranty.