So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Creative Labs Live! Ultra
- CCD Sensor, wide view angle, simple setup and use, can operate at 640 x 480 @ 30fps
- Expensive, resource intensive software, limited features in included software
An easy to use and capable webcam, although slightly expensive.
Price$ 179.95 (AUD)
The Live! Ultra is one of the higher end webcams available from Creative's line of video products. It intends to provide ease of use and quality video broadcasting over instant messaging as well as other internet protocols. The included software also enables some security usage, including delayed video recording, motion tracking and movement detection.
The design of the Live! Ultra is quite traditional in terms of webcams, with a focus knob surrounding the lens system and a rotational head. The included stand is advertised to allow the cam to clip onto any monitor or sit on any flat surface. We found the clip style stand to work very well with laptop screens and LCD screens, although it was slightly unstable when sitting on top of a CRT monitor or on a flat surface.
The camera plugs into any USB port, providing support for both the USB 2.0 and 1.1 standards. After plugging the device in, the driver setup CD took over the installation procedure. The installation is a streamlined process, which requires minimal user interaction; we were up and running in no time. The included software provides some useful functions, although we have had better experiences with free and open source web camera software. The main application of use, Creative's WebCam Centre, allows users to record captures (video and stills), remote monitoring, motion detection and time lapse video recording. Remote monitoring is by far the most interesting of these features, allowing users to transmit a sequence of still images to an FTP site of their choice. It is slightly disappointing that video footage cannot be streamed in this feature, although the time interval for the images can be set as low as 1 second per shot.
The internals of the camera are based around a 640x480 CCD video sensor. Capable of recording 640x480 video at 30 frames per second, the Live! Ultra provides the benchmark for video capture resolution. Image quality varies with the ambient lighting, and at its best provides clear video which suffers with grainy image. The software auto adjusts the image qualities to suit the environment, although under low light or night light we found the camera's performance drops dramatically, offering barely distinguishable images. One impressive and unique feature found in the Live! Ultra is the 76 degree wide viewing angle, allowing a greater viewing area to be recorded.
Within Windows, the only supported operating system for this device, the camera appears as a VFW (Video for Windows) capture device. This enables any video enabled software to utilize the Live! Ultra, and we confirmed this to work with many instant messaging softwares including MSN, Yahoo! Messenger and AIM. In all, Creative's Live! Ultra is a very easy to use device, but we recommend users 'Google' some better software if they intend on capturing video or streaming video to a web server.
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