Kevin Hunt - The Electronic Jungle
The Electronic Jungle
4:04 PM EDT, July 8, 2013
Authorities (me) in a certain suburban house have been on the lookout for an animal of interest (my new cat, Nora) in the recent destruction or tipping of several planters and battery-powered candles and the unplugging of an LED night light.
The suspect, 1 year old, has been on the loose in the house for the past five months. Despite strong circumstantial evidence, I'm concerned it would not hold up in court. So lately I've been trying to gather caught-in-the-act video using Y-cam's HomeMonitor wireless video camera.
The camera itself is a fairly standard $199.99 wireless home monitor, for security or surveillance, with 640x480 resolution and a frame rate (about five per second despite claims of 30) that produces somewhat jerky but watchable video. Remember, this is security video, not Netflix.
Where superior video is required, Y-Cam's new Cube series includes the HD 720 ($274.99) and HD 1080 ($349.99). An outdoor version of the HomeMonitor costs $349.99. Y-Cam also makes the look-alike BabyPing baby monitor ($199.99).
The strength of the HomeMonitor system is what Y-Cam does with the camera feed: The "live" streaming video travels, wirelessly, to the company's cloud server, where it can be viewed anywhere via an Apple or Android app and also on a Web browser. Y-Cam also includes free seven-day cloud storage of recorded video. (Thirty-day storage costs $39.99 a year for each camera.)
The company rightly says the HomeMonitor doesn't need a computer or software during setup, but it does require a browser and a direct connection (Ethernet) to your router. I mistakenly disconnected the Ethernet connection, assuming the HomeMonitor was set up to join a home network directly. But with the direct connection restored, the HomeMonitor quickly joined my home network. When the tiny light on the front of the camera shined green, the HomeMonitor no longer needed the Ethernet lifeline.
Aside from making the app operable, an account allows the user to tweak the camera settings and request email notifications of detected movement. Each camera permits two zones for motion detection, one with full-frame coverage and the other adjustable at the Y-Cam site using your cursor and a re-sizable on-screen box.
Then adjust the motion-detection sensitivity between "small movement" and "large movement" in each zone to suit your surveillance scheme. You can fine-tune even more by creating an hour-by-hour on-off schedule for motion detection. I activated it, naturally, for the days and hours I would not be at home. The email notification includes a link to the recorded-motion video
Not all under-$200 monitors offer nighttime viewing, but the HomeMonitor has infrared night vision that displays images up to about 50 feet, Y-cam says. The images, black and white, were acceptable, but I could not duplicate that 50-foot range. Across most rooms, however, the HomeMonitor should be OK.
Audio, already weak, suffered from constant background noise — as if caged birds were trapped in the room. For home monitoring, though, video matters most. For that, the HomeMonitor's performance will depend on your home network's strength. Y-Cam's choice of low frame-rate and a Smart Buffer prerecording feature that saves 10 seconds before each recorded event also help smooth video.
Unfortunately, it will take more than one HomeMonitor to catch Nora in the act. Whether I watched "live" from work using a Web browser or the iPhone app or viewed a motion-detection recording didn't matter. I couldn't catch her.
Finally, I set up the HomeMonitor on a stool in her favorite room, pointed toward the bed where she sleeps each night. When I didn't receive one motion-detection notification, I thought the Home Monitor might have failed.
No, the device was fine. During the night, Nora had spun it around so it faced a wall. Some troublemakers know all the tricks.
What: Y-Cam HomeMonitor wireless video camera
Hot: Free seven-day cloud storage of recorded video, remote viewing of live streaming via an Apple or Android app.
Not-So-Hot: Mediocre video, audio quality.
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