The PC has become a universal means of communication, replacing paper mail, the telephone, and even live communication. Thanks to the rapid growth of broadband Internet, huge amounts of audio/video information can be transferred over long distances at a tremendous rate, so when communicating with text is not enough, modern technologies allow you to communicate with voice and even real-time video. You don’t have to invest much to enjoy this: just go and buy one of the various web-cameras available on the market.
In this roundup, I will discuss six cameras from Creative you may be interested in.
The specifications of the web-cameras to be reviewed are listed in the following table:
Looking through the table, you can see that technical characteristics do not vary much from model to model, but the difference in price may be considerable. Why?
First of all, the cameras employ different sensors. Besides different operating resolutions (only one camera among these has a hardware resolution higher than 640x480 pixels), they may come with sensors of different types: CCD or CMOS. Cameras with a CCD sensor are generally more expensive due to the cost of the sensor although their advantages aren’t obvious. CCD sensors are traditionally thought to ensure a higher image quality (a better reproduction of colors, a lower level of noise) but CMOS sensors have stepped up to the same level long ago and have even ousted CCD in the area of photography where the image quality requirements are much stricter than when it comes to web-cameras.
As for the resolution parameter, you should keep it in mind that the manufacturer often specifies a number higher than the sensor’s hardware resolution. This number is arrived at by means of interpolation on the software level. For example, the sensor of the Live! Cam Vista IM camera has a resolution of 640x480 pixels but the driver can stretch the picture out to 800x600 pixels.
The next and, perhaps, the most important parameter is the quality of the optical system. Cheap web-cameras come with poor optics and produce noticeable geometric distortions and fuzziness along the edges of the image as a result.
Web-cameras usually transfer audio/video data to the PC via a USB interface. Older and cheaper models support USB 1.1 which limits the maximum data-transfer speed. At a resolution of 640x480 pixels you can’t have a frame rate higher than 15fps with such a camera, and movement recorded with it won’t look smooth. Newer models support USB 2.0, ensuring a frame rate up to 30fps.
The price of the product is also affected by the accessories included into the kit. The manufacturer may put in additional software, Skype certificates, various headsets, pouches for transportation, etc. Let’s now examine each web-cam kit we’ve got for this test session.