Sony SNC-M3W review
Network cameras are getting ever more versatile and affordable. Sony’s SNC-M3W offers an impressive range of surveillance features at a low price. Along with pan and tilt functions, it delivers a decent 30fps, motion detection and a good range of audio capabilities. This is all tied up neatly with support for wired and wireless operations.
The camera body feels solidly built and its crisp white lines look a lot smarter than D-Link’s DCS-5300G. Lens movement is handled by a golf-ball mounting, which is protected inside a clear plastic dome. However, this arrangement does restrict pan and tilt range, which is only slightly better than Panasonic’s pocket-sized BL-C10. The camera can be mounted on the bundled screw-fit stand or the supplied bracket to fix it directly to a wall or ceiling.
A simple setup utility searches the network for Sony cameras and allows you to modify the IP address and the HTTP port used for browser access. Network bandwidth restrictions can also be applied. Once you complete the configuration phase, you’ll need to decide whether to use wired or wireless access. The camera doesn’t support both modes simultaneously, as the same IP address is used for the LAN and WLAN interfaces. However, it does support Ad-Hoc or Infrastructure modes and 64/128-bit WEP encryption can be applied as well. A drawback is the camera only supports 802.11b wireless and with our AirMagnet network analyser software on the case we saw a single client consuming an unhealthy 1.5Mb/sec.
The homepage opens with a live view that provides a set of controls for selecting the image size, taking snapshots and accessing the pan and tilt functions. The latter can also be controlled simply by moving the mouse pointer into the image and clicking on the desired location. The camera offers a digital zoom function that allows you to point to a position in the image and enlarge it by around 2X normal size. However, as we found with the 5300G, digital zoom is a very poor substitute for the optical variety, as picture quality suffers very badly. A single administrator account secures access to the camera’s settings and you can also create a list of up to nine password-protected users that can view the camera feed and control pan and tilt. Motion detection is somewhat rudimentary, although up to four windows can be placed in the viewing screen and slider bars used to set their sensitivity and thresholds. However, this feature functions only when MPEG4 compression is selected. Also, when it’s triggered, the camera can send only an email warning and cannot attach a snapshot.
Both audio in and out sockets are provided, so two-way conversations can be conducted. We found the internal microphone worked well, even in areas with a lot of background noise. Sony’s bundled software provides a good range of tools, as the feeds from up to four SNC-M series cameras can be displayed together. It can also run manual and scheduled recordings from selected cameras.
Sony appears to be offering a good surveillance package. But on first contact with the live view screen it becomes abundantly clear that image quality leaves something to be desired. The focus is too soft, the colour balance is biased towards blue and the iris has trouble dealing with high- and low-light levels. Most importantly, it’s actually difficult to recognise faces due to a lack of detail. The SNC-M3W does deliver wireless support and several other useful features at a price few other vendors can match, but even so we’d expect far better image quality for our money.