Axis 211A Network Camera review
Support for the 802.3af PoE (Power over Ethernet) specification is a natural evolution for network cameras, as it frees them from the constraints imposed by conventional power supplies. Surprisingly, Axis Communications was one of very few vendors able to implement this when it launched its compact 211 Network Camera last year. The 211A builds on this range of features by adding two-way audio to the mix. This allows surveillance personnel to listen to the area under scrutiny, converse with staff and visitors or maybe even frighten off intruders.
Axis has been playing with audio over IP for some time, but its 2191 Audio Module is looking a bit long in the tooth now. We found it worked reasonably well, although this separate unit does add some extra baggage to each camera installation. The 211A is a sleek lozenge of sturdy plastic and comes with a wall-mount bracket and external power supply for situations where PoE isn’t available. A minute hole for the internal microphone is located underneath the body of the camera, while additional audio in and out sockets are provided at the rear.
Installation is a cinch, as the bundled IP Installer searches the network for Axis devices and allows you to change the default IP address and directly access the browser interface. Some manual intervention is required, as the focus needs to be set once the camera is in position. The power cable for the lens is to allow the camera to automatically adjust the iris for changes in lighting conditions. Picture quality is very good and the Live View screen provides direct access to the speaker and microphone on the camera, allowing you to remotely modify volume levels.
While testing the audio component, we found that settings for the internal microphone required some modification to work correctly. With the input gain on the default setting, it was difficult to hear anything when the tester facing the camera was more than 5ft away. Changing the gain up to the maximum setting made a significant improvement, but we found areas with a lot of background noise could easily drown out any conversation. There’s also a slight lag between the camera and the viewing station, although this didn’t cause us any real problems. Moving over to an external condenser microphone improved sound quality noticeably. The same applies to the type of speaker you attach to the camera, as using a compact PC-style unit also required the output gain to be modified to improve clarity and remove any distortion.
A four-pin connector block is provided for monitoring things such as door bells, doors being opened and so on, but the motion-detection capabilities make a sophisticated alternative. You can specify up to ten areas in the video image where you want motion to be detected and set up the size of objects, camera sensitivity and how long detection is to be triggered for. Event actions are comprehensive, as triggers can be used to download images to an FTP or HTTP server and emailed to multiple recipients.
Although the audio quality on the 211A could be improved, it does enhance the versatility of Axis’ range of network cameras. Image quality is particularly good and there are plenty of features to play with, including good motion-detection capabilities.
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