Panasonic BB-HCM311 review
Panasonic is one of the biggest names in the IP camera market, and the latest
BB-HCM311 continues its tradition of delivering a fine range of features for a good price. But, more importantly, it also tackles one of the company’s network cameras’ traditionally weaker areas – image quality.
We found this with the minuscule BL-C10, but the new model’s improvements were obvious on first contact with Panasonic’s intuitive web interface: the blue cast evident with the BL-C10 has been removed and replaced with far more natural colour balance. Focus is much sharper as well, allowing far more detail to be discerned. There’s a lot more on offer too, as the frame rate has been improved to 30fps; just note that this is only achievable at the lower 320 x 240 resolution. Move up to 640 x 480 and the rate will drop to 12fps.
The golf-ball lens mounting indicates that remote pan and tilt functions are provided, and the range of movement is greater than for the BL-C10. Light gathering gets a boost as well, as the camera can function down to 0.2 lux and full-motion detection also comes into the picture. Perhaps the most unusual feature is the SD card slot in the side of the camera body, which allows it to record video directly onto cards up to 1GB in capacity.
The camera also incorporates an internal microphone, which worked well as long as background noise levels weren’t too high. Expect a lag of around one second for audio, which puts it out of sync with the video feed. The camera also provides sockets at the rear for an external microphone and a speaker with its own built-in amplifier. The camera offers a dual-protocol stack that supports both IPv4 and the next-generation IPv6. IPSec encrypted transmissions are also supported, but don’t expect any help from the manual or Panasonic’s support site in setting this up.
Installation is handled nicely by the bundled Easy Setup software, which presents the camera ready for initial configuration and insists that administrative access is password protected. The web interface is easy to use, especially since you don’t need to leave the main viewing screen to change many of the basic settings. You can pick and choose between quality, motion or standard picture settings and select from a choice of resolutions. The lens can be moved simply by pointing in the viewing area and clicking, and the 10x optical zoom can be controlled by rotating the mouse wheel.
Trigger options are plentiful. A simple timer can take a snapshot at regular intervals, the connector block at the rear may be linked up to two external alarms, or you can use motion detection. For the latter, it’s possible to modify the threshold and sensitivity to suit using the preview screen and bar graph. When a trigger is activated, images can be saved in the camera’s buffer or to the SD card, uploaded to an FTP server or emailed to three addresses.
On image quality alone, Panasonic
beats Sony’s SNC-M3W hands-down. If you don’t need wireless support, the BB-HCM311 looks a far better proposition, as it delivers an equally good feature set but presents it in a more sophisticated package.