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Creative WebCam Live Ultra
The latest addition to Creative's extensive line of Webcams, the Live Ultra is a novice-friendly unit that offers decent-quality photo and video in medium to high light situations, but its low-light quality leaves room for improvement. With easy-to-use software this $80 Webcam is a suitable unit for greenhorn users who need to perform only basic editing and who are satisfied with few settings options.
The Creative WebCam Live Ultra sits atop a tripod base. The front two legs are hooked to hold onto the front of the monitor, while a third leg folds down against the back of the monitor for support. This design works well for LCDs and other flat screens, but it doesn't work well with CRTs: the third leg folds out only 90 degrees, so it sits unsecured on top of the monitor, leaving the top-heavy unit liable to tip over. The camera itself is highly adjustable and can rotate 360 degrees. From vertical, it can tilt 45 degrees forward and 45 degrees back. A large focus ring around the lens makes the focus easy to adjust.
Installing the Creative WebCam Live Ultra is easy: simply drop in the installation CD and install the drivers; you can choose to install Creative WebCam Center, Yahoo Instant Messenger, and a detailed Live Ultra user guide. As with most PC Webcams, the majority of the features are in the software. The camera sports 1.3-megapixel snapshot resolution and 640x480-pixel video resolution, and you can make simple edits to still photos. Other features include smart face tracking, where the camera follows and zoom in on your face as you move; remote monitoring, which takes photos of your home or office and sends them to an FTP for you to check in on; a motion detector, which, when set, will start recording as soon as motion is detected; and time-lapse video which will take a still shot at a set interval and play the shots back as a video. The only feature that didn't impressed us was face tracking: it follows anything that moves--be it an arm, a hand, or a face. An additional ArcSoft software CD includes: VideoImpression, which lets you do simple edits to video; PhotoImpression, for doing simple edits to photos; Multimedia e-mail, which lets you create e-cards; and Collage Creator, for creating scrapbook-style collages. All of these programs are relatively easy to use and provide basic cropping and editing tools, but more-advanced users may crave more editing, color, and settings options.
The Creative WebCam Live Ultra features true high-speed USB 2.0 connectivity, while still supporting USB 1.1; however, we couldn't tell a performance difference between this and similar Webcams that operate only on USB 1.1. Performance with video instant messengers is decent; on the initiating end, video is clear and fairly smooth, although color quality is sometimes flat and dark (depending on the amount of light), and on the receiving end, the image is dark and video is choppy. Using WebCam Center, the video performance is of good quality. You can capture between 176x144- and 640x480-pixel resolution video at 30 frames per second (fps) with RGB 24 or I420 video formats. In our tests at each size, the video was smooth, with a well-synchronized audio track. Audio quality with the camera's external headset and microphone is clear; there's no built-in microphone.
This camera's white-balance and exposure controls are automatic, as is its wide-screen view, and the automatic settings work well in high light situations. In dim environments, however, we found that the subject of the video, whether it was a person's face or a soda can, looked very dark and nearly indiscernible. We wish the camera had more-customizable color, video, and editing setting options for more advanced users.