Digital baby monitors are expensive, around €150 for one with an infrared camera. They don’t last very long (as most baby stuff) and aren't very hackable. They mostly come with an extra screen module. A proper geek has to do better, so off I went, looking for a cheap, infrared-enabled IP camera.
Finding a camera
There are a lot of webcams out there in different ranges, so I should probably list my requirements first:
- Cheap, as cheap as possible
- Network-enabled, as I don’t want an extra computer sitting around
- Usable at night (day view is a plus)
- Hackable, as I want to reuse it for something else when the baby gets older
- Able to integrate with my home WiFi network
There are a lot of cheap motorized cameras out there, and I couldn't care less. They look clunky and I don't need the extra features. There are cameras from well-established brands and cameras without names. I went for the “I can always throw it away” approach and got me the cheap Ad(i|v)ance WB-IP02W WiFi-G IP-camera for €70.
The camera comes with an antenna, wall mountable support, ethernet cable, power cable and manual in French and something that sounds like English. The package includes a mini-CD with the installation tools.
The camera manufacturer, Advance or Adiance (can't really make out the name from the logo), doesn't seem to have a website. Google doesn't help, and the French manual only mentions a support link to the French importer, Suza, who has nothing more than a simple product page.
I hoped the camera would have a web interface so I wouldn't have to install any software. It turns out you do, a small application called “IP Camera Tool”. There was no mention of Mac OS X support, though. Well, I did find a Mac OS X version of the application that even works on Lion on the tiny CD. What a surprise! I wouldn't dare stick the mini-CD in my MacBook Pro, as it would probably never come out again, so I booted an old Linux PC in the attic to copy the application to a USB stick.
Once you get the application installed and the camera connected, you can configure its IP address and access its ugly web interface. There are two modes: “ActiveX Mode” and “Server Push Mode”. The first one requires ActiveX, so I have never tried it (you'll need a Windows PC with Internet Explorer to do so). The second one looks more like your router's web interface.
You can configure the camera's DHCP, DDNS, e-mail, FTP and alarm settings from this interface. You can set it to upload or mail pictures when it detects movement at a certain threshold. It doesn't feel very polished, but it works.
Another section of the web interface gives access to the video feed. It's nothing more than a stream of images with some brightness and contrast settings, but it works. I noticed a delay of around 5 seconds when using WiFi; ethernet is a little faster.
You can access the feed directly at http://user:password@ip-address/videostream.cgi if you don't need the web interface. I use it with my smartphone, for example.
The colors look horrible (black looks more like purple). This is something I expected, as most cheap cameras seem to have this issue. Here is a screenshot for comparison; the left side is taken with the Advance WB-IP02W WiFi-G IP-camera, and the right side with an iPhone 4S in the same light conditions:
The infrared image is actually quite nice. The image is bright, and you can clearly see details in a really dark room. The six infrared LEDs seem to do a good job.
The Advance WB-IP02W WiFi-G IP-camera is what I expected it to be: a cheap, infrared camera with decent images in dark rooms. I can directly access the video feed over HTTP, allowing me to use the camera with my phone.
- Not a plug-and-play camera; be prepared to jump through hoops.
- Information is difficult to find: bad manual and no website.
- Install tool comes on a mini-CD. Please, give me a USB stick, or better, a download link.
- Software needs to be installed to configure the camera.
- Really bad color calibration; black looks like purple.
- Cheap, €70 in Belgium
- Video feed accessible by URL
- Decent night vision quality
- Includes a Mac OS X version of the installation tool
Troy Hunt has a really thorough review of what seems to be the motorized version of this camera over on his blog.