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Physical Security: Axis Communications' Axis 210 Network Camera

Axis touts the camera as an effective, motion-sensitive surveillance tool, offering a bidirectional audio option on top of video. But how effective is it, really?

With businesses spending billions of dollars on information security, it's easy to overlook the need for physical security. Before you make that mistake, consider investing in video-surveillance. It will help you protect your property and, in a worst-case scenario, gather forensic evidence following a break-in.

Axis Communications' new Axis 210A Network Camera is one video-surveillance product worth examining. Reasonably priced and designed for indoor use under normal ambient light conditions, it supports live streaming, snapshot archiving and motion detection. I tested a beta version at our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®.

This model is small, about the size of a CD-ROM. The back of the camera has audio "in" and "out" jacks, an Ethernet jack for power over Ethernet, a power line, and a four-pin terminal connector for one input and one output device. You can connect it to external devices, as well as an alarm system, a doorbell and other sensors.

Good
• Easy to configure
• Bidirectional audio support
• Power over Ethernet support
• Low cost for indoor surveillance

Bad

• Manual focusing of lens
• Some functionality requires ActiveX

Axis 210A Network Camera, $549. Axis Communications, (800) 444-AXIS, (978) 614-2000. www.axis.com

The Axis 210A mounts on a ceiling or wall. The camera angle and lens allow for only manual adjustment, though the lack of support for remote or automatic focus is on par with similarly priced products. Built into the camera's software is a Web server, which makes Web administration and viewing possible.

The camera's Web app gives you a viewer screen and a configuration screen. The viewer screen supports the streaming video, audio controls, window size and external sensor controls.

The configuration screen offers extensive tuning options and configurations. You can easily set parameters for color correction, white balance and audio noise cancellation. I liked that I could rotate the image up to 270 degrees from the interface.

Video & Audio Quality

Video is streamed using motion JPEG or MPEG-4 encoding. ActiveX is the default control for Internet Explorer on Windows, and Java for Safari on Mac OS X; QuickTime is also available. Which one you use won't make much difference in terms of video quality. However, I found that ActiveX offers a relatively high refresh rate: nearly 30 frames per second, as compared with the 7 to 9 fps you get with Java and QuickTime.

Axis touts the 210A camera's support of bidirectional audio. A microphone is built into the unit, and you can hook up external mikes as well.

Alas, audio quality of the internal mike--replete with echo--is poor. Background noise can be reduced, but it is still distracting. Of some consolation is the camera's nifty ability, with the help of an external speaker, to act as a two-way intercom--which I used with the ActiveX viewer to send audio from my computer's mike to the camera's sound-output jack.

Trigger-Happy

Perhaps the most powerful feature of the camera's software is the events-trigger function. A change in the external sensors line voltage, motion, system reboot or manual intervention can be configured to trigger events, causing the camera to upload a snapshop, activate the external sensor port, or send an e-mail, HTTP or TCP message.

To test the adaptability of the motion-detection trigger, I configured the threshold setting to be sensitive enough to detect a person walking past the camera. When I pointed the camera at a window, the swaying trees didn't trigger the alarm. I configured the camera to upload a shot every second for 3 seconds before the event and after. When I walked in front of the camera, the six images, at 1-second intervals, all uploaded to my FTP server.

Michael J. DeMaria is a technology editor based at Network Computing's Syracuse University Real-World Labs®. Write to him at mdemaria@nwc.com..

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