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This new Web-controlled wireless pan, tilt, and zoom camera is great for small business security.

6 Min Read

The new, $299 Wireless-G WVC200 PTZ Internet Camera with Audio, launched by Linksys May 31, is an appealing, nicely appointed wireless security camera that can be used and controlled from the Web.

The design of the camera is different from -- and in many respects, better than -- most other low-cost cameras on the market. The actual camera is enclosed in a hard, clear astronaut-helmet plastic bubble that protects the lens and electronics from damage and dust. Along the front panel are the LED lights and a LCD display that shows the camera's IP address. These two features -- the bubble and the iP address -- are the camera's most conspicuous and distinctive features. The camera is flat on the back with holes that make it easy to mount on a wall. A removable stand lets you place it on a shelf. A built-in Web server means you don't need to connect it to a PC or server, although you'll need one for setup. Up to 10 users can access the camera at once.

Setup And Configuration

The setup wizard requires that you physically plug the camera into the router via Ethernet -- at least for the setup phase. After I did so, the wizard was able to find the camera on my network before taking me to a camera setup page where I could choose between Ad-Hoc or Infrastructure mode and DHCP or Fixed IP. I selected Infrastructure and DHCP mode, then set the camera SSID to look for my network. The final step was to transfer all these settings to the camera, which didn't work at first.

After a couple of tries, I couldn't get the setup wizard to transfer my preferred settings to the camera. It could find the camera but couldn't change the settings. It occurred to me that, if the camera was online, I could access it directly from a browser. I easily found the IP address of the camera by looking on the LCD display on the front of the camera. After entering the IP into Internet Explorer, I was accessing the camera directly. I was prompted for a username and password. I entered the default username and password and it took me to the camera's page. I was able to see video, but more importantly, I was able to access and change the camera's settings. I set the camera to look for my wireless network's SSID, then, in a leap of faith, disconnected the Ethernet cable and restarted the camera by unplugging the power cable and then plugging it back in.

When I tried to access the camera again by entering its IP address into Internet Explorer, I received no response from the camera. I reset the camera a couple times but found no change in result. After exhausting every option I could think of, I opened a "Live Chat" with Linksys Tech Support.

The solution to all my problems was simply that I needed to assign the camera a fixed IP address. The instructions assume you know that already, and don't provide any guidance on the circumstance under which you need to do so. Many of the other setup and configuration options were similarly hard to discover and left unaddressed in the documentation. Camera Quality

I found the 640x480 video quality on the camera -- it uses MPEG-4 and MJPEG video compression -- to be surprisingly smooth with only a tiny, fraction-of-a-second lag. After some tinkering with video settings, I found that 25 frames per second was good for over-the-Internet viewing with sound enabled. The camera comes with a built-in microphone, which was also surprisingly crisp and clear. The bottom of the camera has a plug for an external microphone.

Though the camera's video and images were smooth and clear, the colors were way off. Black and green both looked purple. No amount of playing with the color settings was sufficient to get the colors to look anywhere near accurate. If the camera is to be used for security, you might wonder why color fidelity would matter (unless you want to tell the police what color shirt the burglar was wearing). But the cheapest camera phone and bargain-basement webcams have much better color fidelity than this otherwise sophisticated camera -- it's just unnecessary and distracting.

Although the camera uses an Infrared cut filter, which lets you see in the dark if you buy an infrared lamp, it's very poor in low light without the lamp.

Features

The Pan/Tilt/Zoom ability of the camera is good. The camera allows you to create preset positions and cycle through them at set intervals or auto-pan from side to side with a single click. Using the Web-based controls over the Internet, each click gives you just a little movement, and many clicks are necessary to get the camera to move significantly. Fine-grained movement was impossible using the Web controls.

One nice feature is the "On-image pan tilt" control, which allows you to click anywhere on the video and have the camera automatically center on that position. You can also point the camera somewhere, and set that angle as a preset. Put in multiple presets, and you can quickly pan to specific views. You can also tell the camera to move from one preset to the next in succession. Very nice for security.

Using the Web-based interface, you can click a button to take snapshots in JPEG format. You can also take JPEGs on a schedule, and have the Linksys software upload them for you to an FTP server -- great for using it like a webcam.

The camera sports a motion-detector, e-mail alert option which is very easy to setup and use. Setup requires only that you fill in the e-mail address that you want the alert sent to, as well as specify what mail servers you want to use. Once set up, any motion in the camera's view will prompt the camera to take a short video -- complete with sound -- and send it to you.

Linksys offers buyers of this camera a 90-day trial of its SoloLink, which is a DDNS service that keeps track of the IP address of the camera, even when it changes, with an easy to remember, users-selected Web address. After the trial, it costs $19.99 for a 1-year subscription.

Recommendation

The Linksys Wireless-G WVC200 PTZ Internet Camera with Audio has enormous potential and a really good price -- and technical users are really going to love it, but the camera just isn't quite ready for the broader small-business market.

Setup and configuration of the camera is needlessly counterintuitive. Sufficiently detailed instructions for camera setup would make this product usable by a far larger slice of the market. But with inadequate instructions, getting the camera from box to functional requires too much networking knowledge, a couple hours of trial and error, and probably a call to tech support. It's all unnecessary -- the camera would be easy to set up, but the information you need to do so are hidden and kept secret.

Despite complaints about documentation, setup complexity and poor color quality, the Linksys Wireless-G WVC200 PTZ Internet Camera with Audio is a really useful and -- once set up and configured -- fun security product for small businesses and technical home users who want a high-quality security experience at a very low price.

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