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Creative Labs Video Blaster WebCam Plus

WHAT'S HOT: If you're looking for a low-priced Webcam, the $50 Creative Labs Video Blaster WebCam Plus is a solid choice. It's easy to install and use for video e-mail, videoconferencing, and Web video.

WHAT'S NOT: Unlike dual-purpose Webcams, the Video Blaster WebCam Plus cannot be undocked and used as a portable digital camera.

WHAT ELSE: Like many low-cost Webcams, the Video Blaster WebCam Plus uses a CMOS sensor. It's less expensive than the technology used in CCD sensors, but it often requires more tweaking to get the best image quality. The Video Blaster WebCam Plus was no exception: We had to adjust the brightness and contrast, among other image settings the camera offers, in order to get the best image.

The camera's manual focus can be adjusted for close-up (within six inches), midrange, and infinity settings. For still and video images, the camera supports a range of resolutions, up to 640 by 480. The Video Blaster WebCam Plus captures live video at up to 30 frames per second at a resolution of 352 by 288 pixels, or 15 fps at a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels. In our videoconferencing tests, the Video Blaster WebCam Plus's 320 by 240 resolution images appeared adequate, though we saw some pixelation; as with most Internet cameras, changing to a smaller frame size helped to smooth jerky motion.

Installing the Video Blaster WebCam Plus is just as straightforward as most other USB-connected Webcams, with one unusual difference: The unit's lens hinges in only one direction (up and down, but not side to side), which seems to give it a more solid stance on top of a monitor or any flat surface, but makes the camera less flexible than other units.

The package includes a 6-foot USB cable and a Quick Start Guide, but most of the documentation is available only on CD-ROM. The somewhat modest software bundle includes the basics you'd expect--such as Creative's own applications for controlling the camera and performing basic photo editing--but it lacks full-featured photo editing and video editing tools. Also included are Microsoft NetMeeting 3.01, a Web site creation application, and Creative's motion detection utility, WebCam Monitor, which lets you set up a security camera in your home.

UPSHOT: It's just the basics with the low-cost Video Blaster WebCam Plus, but it provides sufficient options for basic videoconferencing needs.

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