Creative Labs Live! Cam Video IM review

Price when reviewed

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Creative Labs Live! Cam Video IM review

Whether you need to remotely contribute to a business meeting or chat to relatives or friends in far-off places, webcams are easily affordable for all.

While Vista doesn’t include Live Messenger as standard, it’s one of the best applications for making video calls for free. And, you can be sure the competition will release Vista-compatible versions of their software imminently. But using an old webcam could be tricky, as some manufacturers won’t be writing new Vista drivers for old hardware.

Creative Labs Live! Cam Video IM already has Vista-compatible drivers. It’s a VGA webcam with a stand that can sit flat on a desk or hook over a TFT or notebook display. On the front, there’s a manual focus ring; on top is a snapshot button. The modest resolution gives a comparatively blocky image. Colour saturation is fine, but there’s a lot of noise in still images and video. No microphone is integrated; instead, you get a mono earphone/mic, which isn’t good if you want to share a conversation. It’s cheap at £15, but not great value.

Hercules is a brand that’s less familiar when it comes to webcams, but the Dualpix HD is leagues better than the Creative. Again, it comes with a basic mono headset, but there’s a mic built into the webcam as well. Combined with a wide-angle lens, it’s great for sharing a call. The dual-purpose stand and focus ring are expected, but image quality is surprisingly good.

Detail was superb thanks to the high 1.3-megapixel resolution (1,280 x 1,024), but also due to adept handling of dim indoor lighting. Video capture at 640 x 480 gave smooth results, even when subjects are moving around a lot.

The bundled capture software is simple to use, with excellent interpolation to take stills up to 5 megapixels. It can’t match Logitech’s QuickCam for colour saturation, but for £25 and the ability to record video at 1,280 x 1,024 it’s the best all-round webcam.

The Logitech QuickCam Fusion is more expensive at £41, but it’s worth considering for its flexible package. Rather than a budget mono earpiece, you get a proper behind-the-head stereo headset with an adjustable microphone stalk, which is ideal for business calls. There’s also a decent microphone in the webcam itself. Plus, with the widest-angle lens, it’s great for getting a whole family in the shot.

We liked the lens cover that offers privacy (although beware that the mic is always on), but the flexible stand wasn’t quite as successful when on top of a screen, where it wobbled somewhat. Still images were sharp, with the best colour saturation here and great detail.

A 1.3-megapixel sensor captures at the same 1,280 x 1,024-pixel resolution as the Hercules, but you can only capture video clips up to 640 x 480 with the software. The Fusion is still a big step up from most webcams, but it’s pricey compared to the Hercules.

Bonus points have to be awarded to Trust for including Vista logos on its website as early as November last year next to compatible webcams, including the WB-5500T. Unfortunately, though, the WB-5500T didn’t prove a high-quality offering. It lacks a built-in microphone, in spite of the tiny hole just beside the lens, and doesn’t come with a headset.

But the poor image quality means it isn’t worth considering, even at £18. It has the narrowest field of view and images are plagued by artefacts. The final nail in the coffin is the slow frame rate when capturing video, leading to blurry motion.

The Microsoft LifeCam VX-3000 is the latest webcam in the range. There’s a button on the top, which you think would be used to take a snapshot but, in fact, it launches Windows Live Messenger. If you use another instant messenger, this button is redundant. What the VX-3000 does have is the familiar multipurpose desktop/screen stand and manual focus ring.

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