The Live Cam Optia AF is truly plug and play. We connected it to two Vista laptops and each recognised the webcam immediately -- no need to install drivers. You'll need to install the bundled software to take advantage of the many features Creative bundles with the webcam, but the plug-and-play nature of the device is convenient if you want to install the camera on a friend's PC for a quick, video-enabled Skype call, for example. Macs will recognise the camera (not tested), but the Live Cam software works only on Windows machines.
The installation process wasn't smooth on either of the two Vista systems we used for testing. Using a Sony VAIO NR160 laptop, the drivers failed to install correctly. We had to navigate around a couple error messages and had to install the drivers from Creative's Web site before we received a full complement of the Live Cam software suite and got it to recognise the camera.
With a Dell Inspiron 1420, the installation process went off without a hitch, but soon after, the Live Cam software stopped recognizing the Live Cam Optia AF and listed the laptop's integrated Web as my only option. We had to uninstall and reinstall the software to get it working again.
Another small glitch we found with the software was finding a way to record video at a resolution higher than 640x480 pixels. Higher resolutions weren't listed as options until I selected 1,600x1,200 pixels for a still photography and then went back to the Video Recording tab. And even then, the eight available resolutions were listed in no particularly order.
The Logitech cam was smoother in zooming in or out to refocus on my bobbing and weaving head. And as we found with the Creative Live Cam Notebook Ultra, the face-tracking was more miss than hit, resulting in wild, unpredictable zooms and pans that were slow to refocus. You're better off disabling this feature. Creative also gives you a host of video effects, which are fun to experiment with, from various backdrop overlays to avatars to generally goofy effects, including a Live Doodle feature that lets you draw on your video visage.
In addition, the QuickCam Pro 9000 features Logitech RightLight technology, which produces a well-balanced, properly exposed image under a variety of lighting conditions. The Live Cam Optia AF produced an acceptable image under favorable lighting conditions, but it struggled in low light conditions.
In a dimly lit room or when seated in front of a brightly lit window, the Logitech camera brightened the image to remove the shadow from our faces, whereas the Creative cam could produce only a grainy, silhouetted image of our mugs. For one-man webcam shows, you'll get much better-looking videos from the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000.
Creative backs the Live Cam Optia AF with a two-year limited hardware warranty.
For simply recording video of yourself sitting in front of your PC, Logitech's QuickCam Pro 9000 boasts a clearly superior image, particularly in low-light settings or those with a bright background. Creative has no answer for Logitech's RightLight technology for optimising the image quality. And while the Logitech QuickCam software installs without incident, we wouldn't be surprised if you hit a couple snags when installing the software with the Live Cam Optia AF.
What this Creative cam has going for it is an excellent design that makes it easy to record subjects other than yourself at your PC and a huge if somewhat buggy software bundle. Unless you're security conscious and want a webcam you can set up for remote surveillance or would like to engage your artistic talents and dabble in time-lapse video, you'll be better served by the £55 .
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday