The Creative Live Cam Voice is a well-rounded camera for IM and Internet-based voiceconferencing. We like its audio options and clear, vivid images and its plethora of image adjustability, physical flexibility, and ample software, but we weren't impressed with the poor integration of animated video effects. This won't be a great loss for professional pursuits, but if your kids like to play with animation, the less expensive Logitech QuickCam Pro 5000 is a better choices. For $99, the Creative Live Cam Voice offers many options, but if your needs are more basic, we recommend the less expensive Logitech QuickCam for Notebooks Deluxe or the Creative WebCam Live Ultra.
Though it's fairly large, the Creative Live Cam Voice is surprisingly stable. The camera's bulbous body, which is reminiscent of E.T.'s head, sits atop a claw-like stand. The spring-loaded leg securely holds the camera in place on top of a flat-panel screen, and the leg folds in completely, so the camera can also sit on a desk. The camera offers 360 degrees of horizontal and 65 degrees of vertical range--impressive, considering that the Logitech QuickCam Fusion offers only 90 degrees of vertical movement.
The Creative Live Cam Voice comes with a single CD that includes drivers, a manual, and software. The bundled apps include Creative Muvee software for creating and editing basic videos; My Orb for accessing files such as remote-monitoring images from a computer or a PDA with an Internet connection; SightSpeed, a voice and video calling service; Creative WebCam Center for remote monitoring and taking time-lapse photographs, videos, and still photographs; and Creative Photo Manager, which organizes videos and still photos by date. This is a remarkable bundle, especially since many Webcams offer only basic photo and video software.
The real value of the Creative Live Cam Voice lies with the WebCam Center software, which makes it easy to adjust color, image size, and frame rate. Two tabs at the top of the WebCam Center's main interface lead you to intuitive menus with a plethora of adjustability options. Creative also offers a bonus set of features that you can download from its Web site: Advanced Video FX adds special effects, such as psychedelic color trails and exotic backgrounds, to your picture or video, and WebCam Audio Control lets you choose from normal; Live Audio, which reduces background noise; or Directional Live Audio, which transmits sounds from in front of the camera only. Each of these control panels launches in a separate window, which could make for a cluttered desktop; we'd rather see them incorporated into the main WebCam Center interface. Using the Video FX software is also difficult and requires switching from the standard Live Cam Voice driver to the Creative WebCam (with video effects) driver with a drop-down menu in WebCam Center. Switching drivers results in markedly worse image quality and lower image resolution. We prefer Logitech's Avatars, which work directly in the software window without switching drivers or sacrificing image quality.
We tested the Creative Live Cam Voice under a variety of lighting conditions and were pleased with the image quality. Colors looked accurate and images were sharp. We did, however, notice a slight bit of digital noise in both still and moving images. Video was generally smooth, but quick movements, such as the waving of a hand, appeared jerky and blurred. Video records at a maximum 30 frames per second at resolutions ranging from 160 x 120 to 1.3 megapixels, which is standard for this class of WebCam. You can capture still images at any of those resolutions up to 1.3 megapixels, and the Creative Live Cam Voice can take 5-megapixel still photos, but they're interpolated. The WebCam Center software was a bit frustrating, and we were occasionally greeted with a "Failed to capture image" error message.
The camera's built-in microphone is one of its most valuable assets. In our tests, the mic picked up a normal-level conversation from about 20 feet away. At closer range sound quality was average using normal mode, but with the Live Audio option selected, sound is and clearer with less background noise. The Directional Live Audio option was the most impressive, recording only sounds coming from directly in front of the microphone. We tested this by speaking loudly to the front and then loudly to the side of the microphone--from the side, no sound was audible.
Creative offers an industry-standard one-year warranty on the Live Cam Voice. Creative's support Web site includes knowledge-base articles, drivers, and software updates, as well as discussion forums and an e-mail form for tech support. A tech-support help line is also available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT.