Veo Wireless Observer

Price: $299
Rating: 3 out of 5

I’m always surprised there aren’t more digital video camera products that support
Wi-Fi. Considering the difficulties one can have stringing network cable for
just a PC, let alone a wall mounted spy device, it would seem that 802.11 would
be a no-brainer. D-Link has a nice product, and there are a handful of others.
The latest is from a company called Veo from San Jose, Calif. It’s a camera that tries
hard, but ultimately falls short of perfection. However, for small offices or
homes, it could be a nice addition to your security and piece of mind.

I’ll get the negatives out of the way first. The Wireless Observer
feels cheap. That’s in part because it’s light weight and made of plastic —
this is not a unit meant for heavy security use. Snapping the antenna off the
top alone would take no more effort than could be expended by an asthmatic two-year-old.
The product is based on the Veo Observer, an Ethernet version of the camera.
In fact, the Wireless Observer seems to differ in only two ways: it has a fin-like
antenna sticking out of the top, and no Ethernet port on the back.

The unit supports DHCP for automatically receiving an IP Address from your
network router, or can use a static IP, your choice. However, it doesn’t come
configured for DHCP — out of the box, you need to hook it to a computer for
initial setup. And this is my biggest gripe about the Wireless Observer: To
do the setup, you need to hook it to your PC via a Serial cable.

I’m of the mind that standard serial ports and the products that connect to
them should have been done away with as soon as the specification for USB was
completed many, many years ago. A lot of modern PCs don’t even have the ol’
RS232 Serial Port, and for good reason — it slow and clunky and seldom "plug-and-play."
Luckily I had a laptop that could handle it. I understand why Veo would make
such a move — it’s got to save some money — but I don’t think USB interfaces
cost that much more these days.

Oh, and be careful to read the names of the jacks on the rear of the camera
— the male end of the cheapy, plastic Serial cable Veo includes in the box
can also easily slip into the plug for the microphone (imagine my 15 minutes
of head scratching, wondering why there was not connection, until I finally
did just that). While in this setup screen, you also have to set your WLAN’s
SSID, whether your network is in Infrastructure or Ad hoc mode, and any WEP
settings. The camera comes set to use DHCP, but you can’t skip the serial-port
step since you need to set the SSID before it will connect to the WLAN.

Once you’ve setup the camera, you unplug it from the serial cable and its should
be on your network — mine was. The side of the camera features an LCD readout
of three numbers, indicating the final three numbers of the last octet of the
IP address scheme you use. So if your network uses 192.168.xxx.xxx as its IP
range, and the camera’s address is 192.168.0.102, the LCD says "102."
A nice detail.

All of this setup is explained in a small pamphlet — to a point. The full
documentation is in an Adobe PDF file and also in a Microsoft Word document
on the CD. The PDF covers both the wired and wireless Observer cameras. This
PDF is setup for printing on 8×11 inch sheets. Still, for $299, I’d like to
get a printed manual.

Much as the setup seemed to have issues, in actual use, the camera impressed
me.

You can access it from any computer on the same network subnet via a Web browser
when you type in the camera’s IP address. You’ll have to let the Web server
built in to the camera feed up an ActiveX control that runs the camera — thus,
you’ll need to stick with Internet Explorer. Click the language you want, enter
a username/password to access the camera (it’s user configurable, and you can
setup multiple accounts to the camera, some with more priority than other),
and voila, you’re on the main viewing page.

Having only played with one other wireless camera before, the aforementioned
$329 DCS-1000W from
D-Link
, I was quickly enamored with Veo’s best feature: motion. You can
tilt and pan this camera around and up and down to get a full view of 120 degrees
around and 60 degrees up and down. It’s easy to loose yourself in just playing
with the pan/tilt functions. I was watching my dogs on a separate floor of my
house for an hour.

Hook a cheapie microphone into the back, like the kind that come with almost
all PCs, and you can also monitor the sound in the room, albeit not directionally,
since it doesn’t pan or tilt with the camera. Also, the microphone tends to
pick up only the noise of the camera as it pans and tilts if you put it too
close.

This camera is not necessarily meant for stealth– as noted, it makes noise
when it pans or tilts. Plus, when the power is on, a big blue light shows up
under the Veo logoed power button on the front. However, the controls let you
deactivate that power status light so you can at least try to sneak a peek without
your subject knowing.

The images on the camera are quite nice in full-blown daylight. Night viewing
of room is difficult if the camera has to deal with light sources like lamps
in contrast to the darker areas. That muddies up the picture fast. Still, when
it’s good, it’s very good. The fastest frame rate it can deliver is about 10
frames per second, not quite full motion but more than good enough for security/voyeuristic
purposes. The camera can capture a motion AVI file of what you’re watching,
or take a JPG still image. You can zoom in on any subject, but it’s a 2x digital
zoom, not optical, so images just look like grainy, cropped versions of what
you see normally. Images can stream at 640×480 pixels, 320×240 pixels, or 160×120
pixels. The middle range looked best.

While you’re in these screens, you can also go into the setup files to adjust
things like video properties, the usernames for those who can access the camera,
and motion detection (which only works if you buy a separate $39.99 motion sensor
from Veo).

All of the features you can get to on the camera via a Web browser can also
be via the software called Veo Observer Studio (so those who refuse to give
up their copies of Opera and Mozilla can still use the camera). The Studio software
provides extra features like movie maker software and a Web homepage designer.

Wireless Observer comes with a bracket for wall mounting the camera, which
is probably where it would be most useful. But since the camera requires AC
power to operate, some of the more unique places you can mount it are immediately
negated. It’s nice that the AC power cord is 10 feet long, that helps, but isn’t
enough. I also would have liked if there was a way to mount the camera upside
down on a ceiling, but there isn’t, unless you want to stand on your head to
watch the video it sends.

If it sounds like you’re limited to viewing the camera only when you’re on
the same network, that’s not true. You can access the camera from over the Internet
if you’re not home, but that requires knowing the WAN IP address of your broadband
service provider, using port forwarding on your router to the Internet, and
a few other tricks covered in the manual. If you have multiple cameras, you
can see each if you assign each camera its own port number. Video quality over
the web is adequate, but the frame rate drops noticeably.

It’s hard to recommend the Wireless Observer for anyone looking for major security
options that can use wireless. D-Link’s cameras are sturdier, can mount anywhere,
an Ethernet jack and the software it comes with supports multiple camera views
at once — but doesn’t support sound. With Veo’s product, you can have multiple
cameras, but you’ll need one browser windows open for each.

It’s safe to admit that no one has come up with the perfect wireless video
camera yet. It should be sturdy, mount anywhere, allow pan/tilt, audio, have
controls for view single or multiple cameras both locally and remotely, and
an option for Power-over-Ethernet (or even just batteries). Until then, take
your pick of the two cameras here. Believe me, you’ll have a lot of fun with
the Veo’s pan and tilt, and find it more than sufficient for general home or
small office use.

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