The $70 Creative Live Cam Socialize HD AF Webcam keeps you in touch with friends and family with a creative suite that includes visual and vocal overlays that add a fun, interactive element to your chats. The HD sensor can shoot 8-megapixel snapshots or full 720p HD video, and the included Live Central 3 software makes it easy to edit your movies and upload them to various social networks with a single click. Of course, jumping on a jet plane and connecting with your loved ones in person is ideal, but the convenient, easy-to-use Creative Live Cam Socialize HD AF is the next best thing.
The main body of the Live Cam Socialize HD AF is composed of a plastic bracket that fits most monitors and laptop screens, with the camera itself mounted on a swivel for 360-degree visibility. The camera also has a thin stand on the bottom that sits even on a flat surface, should you prefer to have it on your desk.
The front of the camera has a large lens with an HD sensor for capturing 8-megapixel snapshot photos or 720p video, as mentioned above, and you can also configure the button on the top right to function as a single-touch shutter button or to call up any of your frequently dialed Windows Live Messenger contacts. Finally, the ample 5.5-foot cord is long enough to stretch down to the back of a tower on the floor and terminates in a single USB plug that transfers both video and audio from the embedded microphone.
The Live Cam Socialize HD AF is compatible with Mac and Windows operating systems, but you need to run the installation disc to install the Creative Live Central 3 software that acts as a hub for all the creative visual and audio effects. The software lets you toggle between capture mode and chat mode, which effectively resizes the menu and puts it out of the way of your chat window.
Like many Webcam software programs we've tested, Live Central 3 gives you full manual control over your photos and videos. You can set the photo resolution from 160x120 pixels all the way up to 4,384x2,466 pixels, although we noticed a significant lag in the preview window when toggling up toward the higher end of the HD spectrum.
The software also allows you to preset visual effects like face brightener and soft skin mode with a full menu of specific adjustments for backlight, brightness, contrast, color, gamma, and a mirror image toggle, and you can always access the most recently produced media files in the carousel below the main image window.
Additionally, Creative provides a copy of its simple Movie Creator, which lets you splice together video footage and upload it with one click to social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Photobucket, along with lesser-known online media services like KinKast, Youku, and Box.net. We played around with Movie Creator briefly and won't even begin comparing it with full-fledged editing software; its functionality is more comparable to the mobile version of iMovie on the iPhone 4.
Other Webcams we've tested, like the Logitech C310, offer a few carnival filters and graphical overlays, but Creative definitely put the most thought into the user experience, and we had a lot of fun playing around with the visual effects.
As you can see from the shots we've included, the camera accurately tracks your face in the lens for the placement of accessories like headgear, mustaches, hats, and glasses. We especially enjoyed combining effects categories to create hilarious scenarios, and our chat partner had no problem seeing all the distortions over several programs, including Google Chat and Skype. Only one person needs to have the Creative software installed in order to have fun, but it's obviously more entertaining if both parties are so equipped.
In addition to all the visual effects, you can toggle voice controls that change your voice to sound like a robot, a Munchkin, an excited teenager, a depressed teenager, an old man, and more. We wish the software had an easier way for us to preview the voices, but it looks like the only way to do that is to record a short video of yourself and play it back--no big deal, but a little tedious.
The last unique feature that stands out is the desktop share button that you can toggle to display your entire desktop, or you can specify a smaller window square that you can use to scroll over custom areas on your screen.
The picture and sound quality are what we'd expect from a $60 Web camera. As we stated earlier, you should shy away from the highest-quality 4,384x2,466-pixel resolution video setting unless you're running an especially powerful computer or are willing to risk hiccups in the video, but aside from that our chat partner reported no lag. We did notice a slight yellow hue in the video that we suspect is more a symptom of the fluorescent lighting in our test lab. The HD sensor works well in low-light scenarios, and the autofocusing lens captures multiple faces with clarity and sharp picture quality.
The $70 is a fair price for a Webcam that offers the additional in-chat features of the Creative Live Cam Socialize HD AF Webcam. Beyond the hardware, the fluid wide-screen video shots and the fun media extensions you get with the Live Central 3 software give it more than just vanity appeal. If you don't already own a computer with a camera built in, we recommend the Creative Live Cam Socialize HD AF Webcam.