Foscam (View on Amazon) has done an excellent job offering wireless cameras at an affordable cost. When considering a wireless camera that could connect to my smart phone for just over $50 dollars versus a $150 dollar baby monitor, I thought Foscam was a no-brainer. While not perfect, the Foscam nVisionFI8910W is a decent value for the cost. How does it stack up? Read on to find out.
A product is only as good as the consumer’s ability to operate it. While it is by no means rocket science, the Foscam does come with some headaches during the setup process. The device comes with an installation cd as well as a quick start guide. Setup requires that you plug the camera directly into the modem with an ethernet cable, boot up the software, identify the camera, and get it connected to your wireless network. While simple in theory, the process ended up taking significantly longer than it should. Finding the camera requires that you have DHCP enabled, properly configured MAC address filtering, and potentially temporarily disabling your firewall and anti-virus just to find the camera for the first time.
Additionally, the interface for the software during setup looks archaic, as if it was designed for Windows 3.1. It was equally non-user friendly. We’ve become so accustomed to well designed and intuitive software with Apple’s high standards, that we forget how challenging the software of yesteryear was. The setup software simply lives in the past.
Welcome back to the 90’s
Finally, one of the features that I was excited about was being able to stream over the internet. After trying multiple different setups and troubleshooting the camera in a number of ways, I was unable to ever get the video stream to work over the internet, despite following every piece of instruction provided by Foscam. I have a Degree in Information Technology with an emphasis in networking. If I can’t figure this out, the majority of mainstream consumers are unlikely to figure it out either. The disclaimer I will give to that statement is that the problem may have been specific to my internet service provider or network setup. This is still one variable to consider when purchasing this camera, if you’re purchasing with the intent to use it over the internet. Setup is complicated and there is a chance that it won’t work for you.
One last challenge to point out, the Wi-Fi card within the device is extremely low power. This equates to pretty poor range when using it wirelessly. The camera was unable to connect at about 50 feet away through a couple of walls. If you’re looking to use the device in a larger home you’re likely going to need either a wireless extender or an Ethernet Over Power Adaptor.
Daily Use and Quality
Once you finally get everything setup, using the device is relatively smooth sailing from there. As long as the device is connected to your network, all you have to do is type in the IP address on your PC or open the tablet or smart phone app and click/tap the desired camera.. You can then move the camera around by either swiping the screen or pressing the on-screen buttons. There are also options to toggle the microphone and sound, as well as record the video stream.
The quality of the image is decent enough to use as a baby monitor or security camera, but it is not HD; so don’t expect to be able to zoom in on the fly on the wall. You’re getting 300 pixels, that’s nearly 1/4 of the number of pixels in an HD image. Video quality is about what you would expect from a low to medium-end webcam. Frames per second is going to vary based on your network setup. I found that when connected on a PC, video would average between 15 and 20 frames per second. While connecting to a smart phone the stream was closer to 5-10 frames per second. Take a look at the example video below to see for yourself:
As you can see, the quality is decent enough with functional frames per second. A few anomalies that I want to point out with the video stream. First, you cannot have the microphone and the speaker on at the same time. Not because it’s restricted, but because the microphone is so sensitive that it picks up the sound coming out of the speaker and creates an intense echo with a lot of feedback. So if you were planning on using this at your door to greet guests, it’s going to be challenging. The best workaround is to mute the mic on the camera while speaking through it, then unmute the mic and mute the speaker. It works, but isn’t optimal and doesn’t allow smooth conversations.
Additionally, the camera supports wireless standards: 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. It does not support the latest wireless standard 802.11ac, but most routers are backward compatible so that should not be a problem. That does, however, limit the top speed at which it can stream the video. However, being a standard definition video stream means that it doesn’t require a ton of bandwidth and should still work optimally with the omission of 802.11ac unless your network is extremely congested with devices.
For use as a security camera, the device supports both motion detection in addition to recording and archiving video. This does require that you use the interface within Internet Explorer and it requests you to install an unsigned ActiveX plug-in for it to work. Most Windows security settings won’t even allow installation without manually changing your security settings. It’s also worth noting that you can turn on the motion detection feature when using the phone or tablet app and it will notify you of motion. However, it eats away at your battery life pretty heavily. If you plan on using that phone for anything else, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Design and Build
The device itself is well designed. It definitely wasn’t designed by the same person who designed the software interface. The camera lens rotates 360 degrees on the X-axis and 180 degrees on the Y-axis giving you a lot of control to look around the room your monitoring. The material the camera is made out of feels medium grade. The camera is also a bit light making it feel a bit cheaper and less durable.
The lens itself is surrounded by 12 infrared sensors that allow the camera to see in the dark. As with all infrared cameras, you lose the ability to see color while in the dark. Keep that in mind if you’re planning on using this to decipher between Pizza Hut and Little Caesars in a dark stream. (Very important)
In the box with the camera comes an antennae as well as a mount. With that mount you can permanently place the camera onto the wall. The camera also comes with the ethernet cable necessary to configure the camera the first time.
In conclusion, the Foscam works well enough once you get it setup. The initial setup has a few hurdles that may deter non-techie consumer, but once it is set up, the camera performs reasonably well. While not the clearest image on the market and with flaws in the speaker and microphone, the camera is imperfect, but at $50 dollars you’re getting what you paid for. If you don’t mind the initial technical hurdles, then this camera might be the bargain that you’re looking for.
What do you think of the device? Was your experience different? Let me know in the comments below