Panasonic BL-C20 review
Although a USB webcam is an acceptable minimum for home security, it brings with it a host of problems – what happens if someone steals the PC it’s recording to, for instance? And there’s also the problem that the host PC needs to be turned on 24/7 to work.
This month’s wireless webcams will work and record even if there are no PCs connected to the network. Instead, they connect directly to a wireless network and relay images over the internet, allowing you to check on any activity in your front room from anywhere in the world. With such small CCDs and lenses, all three cameras here offer merely adequate image quality, but they’re more than satisfactory for monitoring and security purposes.
First up is the Panasonic BL-C20. It’s the smallest and most discreet camera here, and it offers a straightforward setup too. We had it connected wirelessly and transmitting images to its host PC within 10 minutes of getting it out of the box. The BL-C20 offers resolutions ranging from 160 x 120 to 640 x 480 and, while the latter only offers a maximum of 7.5fps, we preferred the more clearly defined image provided by the higher resolution. You can also control digital zoom and pan from the camera’s internal web server.
The camera also has enough internal memory for 250 320 x 240 images. Alternatively, you can set the camera to transmit images to an FTP server whenever its motion detector is triggered. If you’d rather not get your hands dirty by manually setting up a dynamic DNS account (from www.dyndns.com, for instance), you can get a free, unlimited account from Panasonic’s Viewnetcam service, which gives you a domain name that allows you to access your camera.
We like the low price of the BL-C20, but it’s hamstrung by the fact that it only supports WEP encryption, not the newer and more secure WPA standard. It’s a real shame, as the BLC20 is otherwise a great camera, but you should wait for a firmware upgrade to cure this before buying one.
The Linksys WVC54GC-UK is the cheapest camera here, but is reassuringly covered with Cisco branding. Image quality was the worst of all the cameras we tested, courtesy of the maximum resolution of 320 x 240 (640 x 480 is available through interpolation), although it was still possible to make out facial features.
The internal web browser is light on features – there’s no way, as there is with the Panasonic, to set up an FTP connection, which means you’ll need to use a third-party host if you want to record your camera’s output without constantly running a PC. The camera comes with a free one-year subscription to Sololink, which allows you to view your camera’s output over the internet, as well as storing images when the motion detection has been tripped. Once the year’s subscription has lapsed, you can continue for a fee – at present, a reasonable $19.99 per year – or, as with all of the cameras here, set up a dynamic DNS account and access your camera directly. The ability to email not only an alert but a short video of the event itself is unique here. If you want a fire-and-forget solution rather than setting up a dynamic DNS address or an FTP server, the Linksys is a good bet.
From the cheapest to the most expensive: the D-Link DCS-2120 shows its quality as soon as you take it out of the box. The stand, unlike those of the other two cameras, is made of metal, and it has three screw holes for wall mounting. It also has a large removable aerial, which, if you need more range, could be replaced by an even larger model. Unlike either of the other two cameras, there are no proprietary dynamic DNS services included, but setting up one yourself is a relatively straightforward process.