The Compact Wireless-G Internet Video Camera from Linksys (model: WVC54GC), about $100, is worth a look if you’re in the market for a relatively inexpensive Wi-Fi video camera you can use to monitor your home when you’re away.
Wi-Fi surveillance cameras come in many different shapes and sizes these days and with different features for different applications. Virtually every network equipment vendor has a range of models. This one is designed exclusively for indoor use. It does not have a microphone, it does not have a pan-tilt-zoom mechanism that lets you remotely change its view, and it doesn’t have infrared capabilities that let it see in the dark.
The WVC54GC does, however, have a built-in Web server that allows you to log on to the camera from any Net-connected computer and view live video from the camera. Linksys includes a 90-day free trial of its SoloLink DDNS (dynamic domain name service). A DDNS lets you access the camera by name so that even if your Internet service provider changes the IP address assigned to your modem, you can still find the camera on the Net. It should be possible to use other DDNS services – there are many – but SoloLink only costs $20 a year after the trial period.
Web access is a very cool feature and might even be quite useful. You could look in on the bambinos and their child care worker from the office, for example. Or check up on the teenagers you leave home alone when you go on vacation. You can even have the camera e-mail you a recorded video every time movement is detected in a vacant house or room.
Even without the Web server functions, you can set a camera up in the nursery and keep an eye on baby in a window on your PC or TV in another room, or keep an eye on the kids playing outside while you work, or have a camera pointed out the window at the front door so you can see who’s at the door. In fact, you can set up multiple cameras and view them all at the same time using the included Linksys Multi-camera Viewer & Recorder utility – just like security guards in a mall or office building.
This camera, as its name suggests, is small and light – 3.54×4.02×1.46 inches and less than five ounces. It comes with a wide plastic base with a flexible stem. You can screw the stem into the bottom of the camera if you want to set it on a flat surface, or into the back if you want to mount the camera on the wall. A nut on the stem lets you easily adjust the position of the camera and hold it firmly in place.
Don’t expect superb video quality. The WVC54GC uses fairly aggressive MPEG-4 compression and transmits video at native pixel resolutions of 320×240 or 160×128. You can view the image at 640×480, but as with any digital image when you enlarge it beyond its native resolution, it looks pixilated. In fact, even when viewed locally at normal size, the video from this camera is a little pixilated and fuzzy. I also noticed color blocking (a result of the color palette being reduced to compress the data stream). Still, the video is adequate for most monitoring applications, and it’s not much worse when viewed over the Internet.
My experience with the camera was generally good. Initial setup was very simple. You plug the camera into the router using the supplied Ethernet network cable (you don’t have to use it wirelessly), the setup program finds it, you enter basic network information, and then the utility installs the Viewer & Recorder utility.
The Viewer & Recorder program lets you view video, configure recordings and adjust settings. It includes a list of cameras found on the network and an array of small windows for displaying video. You drag a camera from the Camera Status list and drop it on one of the video windows to view a thumbnail of its video. To view full-size video, double-click on the thumbnail. The full-size view window lets you zoom in, take a snapshot or start a video recording. The Viewer & Recorder utility lets you view up to eight cameras at once.
From the control pad at the bottom of the screen, you can add a camera, delete a camera or change its settings – its network settings, that is: MAC address, IP address, Port number, Login Name and Password (optional). You can even test the camera connection by clicking a button.
To schedule recordings for a camera, you set the frequency (one time, every day, Monday to Friday, etc.), start time and duration. If you can’t monitor live video, you can at least do spot checks and review recordings later. The dialog lets you schedule multiple recordings for each camera.
The control pad also gives you access to the motion detection settings. When motion detection is turned on – and you can use the settings dialog to say when and for how long it should be on – the program constantly loads video from the camera into memory and scrutinizes it for frame-to-frame differences that might indicate motion. If it detects movement, it stores the recording from a few seconds before to a few seconds after.
The trouble is, any movement, including changes in color or tone can trigger a recording, even with motion detection sensitivity set to low. You can divide the image into a grid and choose to monitor only parts of it. I set the camera up in a window to point out at the front door area. I wanted to make a recording whenever somebody came to the door. The camera view is fairly wide, though, so it took in some of the street. Every time a car went by, the utility would make a recording. By selecting only parts of the image and setting sensitivity to “very low,” I was able to mostly eliminate this problem.
Configuring the SoloLink DDNS service was also surprisingly simple. The setup utility provides a wizard to walk you through the process. When I used it, I uncovered a small glitch, but it has since been rectified. The process requires you to download and install an ActiveX utility. ActiveX utilities are usually certified by an Internet security certification company such as VeriSign. The certificate for the SoloLink ActiveX utility, which is stored in the camera’s firmware, was expired, so my browser wouldn’t download or install it. A Linksys tech support agent helped me find a workaround – changing browser security settings – and Linksys has since updated the camera firmware to eliminate the problem.
When the system is set up properly, you simply surf to the Web page for your camera and key in the login name and password you entered during setup. You can set it up to remember your login and password and log you in automatically on your own computer.
At the Web page, you see exactly the view you’d see in the Viewer & Recorder utility, only now it’s piped over the Internet. You can set the video size, zoom in on part of the image, flip, reverse or rotate the image – though why you’d want to do this I’m not sure – and take and store a snapshot image.
Bottom line: the Compact Wireless-G Internet camera may not be the fullest-featured product of its kind on the market. It lacks pan, tilt and zoom, infrared and sound, and it can’t be used outside. However, it does work adequately in the applications for which it’s intended, it’s very easy to set up and use, and it’s relatively inexpensive. Three out of seven ain’t too bad.