Axis 207W network camera

Apple’s $149 iSight (   ; December 2003 ) allows you to do some amazing things: hold video chats with friends across the planet and keep an eye on things at home while traveling. But you also have to keep it connected to a Mac that’s powered on. but that is not the case with the Axis 207W. This wireless network camera lets you set up remote monitoring without having to connect it to a computer or wired network plug. (Another model, the Axis 207, is much the same as the Axis 207W, but it comes with an Ethernet interface only.)

Aimed at users with serious remote-monitoring needs, as well as dedicated hobbyists, the 207W can do everything from watch a shipping door to keep an eye on the backyard. The camera’s built-in Web server and 802.11g wireless capabilities mean you can easily broadcast images from any location that has a power outlet and a WiFi connection. The camera also includes an Ethernet jack, for initial setup and hardwiring options. Note, though, that this isn’t an iSight replacement—it doesn’t work with iChat. And all of these features will cost you. At $299, the 207W is about twice the price of an iSight.

Configuring the camera

Out of the box, the camera is hardwired to an IP address of 192.168.0.90, which is only visible to machines on the same network segment. To configure it, connect the 207W to your Mac’s Ethernet port, then disable your current wireless network. You can manage the camera’s settings via any Web browser (it worked well for me in both Safari and Camino). With the camera connected, configure the wireless connection and then unhook the cable. I had no trouble connecting the camera to my WEP-protected AirPort network, although I did have a problem once with the camera connecting to my AirPort Express instead. To fix the problem, I had to unplug the Express to get the camera to locate the Base Station again. (WEP, short for Wired Equivalent Privacy, is a security protocol for wireless local area networks.)

The 207W offers a number of configuration options. You can set different users and passwords, image size and compression, frame-rate and connection-time limits, and motion detection. You can even enable one-way audio if you’re using MPEG streaming, which can be useful if you’re monitoring, say, a building at night (in that case, you don’t want to hear any noise).

You can also choose to overlay the video with a line of text, as well as the date and time (synced via a time server). Note that not all time servers seem to work. For instance, I was unable to get this feature working with time.apple.com, but I had no problem with bonehed.lcs.mit.edu, which I found on a list of public time servers. If you don’t use a DNS (domain Name Server) with the camera, you’ll need the time server’s IP address.

Keeping an eye out

The camera itself is quite small and light. It sits on a wall-mountable pivoting base that you can manually adjust. The power and Ethernet plugs connect to the bottom of the camera. Just make sure to use the included clip to secure the power cable, or it may end up disconnecting: The power plug on my unit didn’t create a very tight connection. Also, the camera requires manual focus. Most users will place the camera once and focus it, so this isn’t really an issue. But if you want to move it around a lot, you’ll have to manually adjust the focus each time.

Video from the 207W can range in size from 160 x 120 pixels up to 640 x 480 pixels, which is plenty large enough to see most important details. Frame rates were good and video looked smooth, even at the large size over the wireless connection. I did, however, experience some partial frame drops (only the top half of the picture appeared for a frame or two) when I had the camera located near the outer range of my base station.

Image quality is good, but there are some issues: The 207W’s picture is brighter than what you get with an iSight, but the colors also look somewhat washed out. The fisheye lens lets you see more, but also creates some curvature at the outer edges of the image.

Playback worked well in all of the major Mac browsers. You can customize the appearance of the streaming video page, including background and foreground colors, background images, and logos. You can even embed the streaming content in your own page design if you wish.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you need to place a Web camera far away from a wired connection or computer, the Axis 207W is a good choice; the large image size and fast frame rate are bonuses. If, on the other hand, you just want a simple Webcam, the 207W is probably overkill.

[ Senior Editor Rob Griffiths is the author of Mac OS X Power Hound, Panther Edition (O’Reilly Media, 2004) and runs the Mac OS X Hints Web site .]

Here are side-by-side shots taken from the Apple iSight (left) and the Axis 207W (right). Note that the 207W’s image looks brighter, though a bit more washed out.Axis 207W network camera

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