Keeping an eye on things with a cheap wireless IP camera

Posted by Dan on Feb 4, 2010 @ 1:08 PM

Many of you may know that the wife and I have our first baby due this Spring. One the things I've been researching since I found out the wife was pregnant has been IP cameras. I really like the idea of being able to check in on the baby at any time to make sure she's ok—without actually walking in and risking waking her up.

I looked at a lot of various wireless cameras, from baby-specific video monitors to IP cameras, but the features that were key for me were:

  • Night vision—this is a must to check in on a sleeping baby
  • Viewable from my iPhone—the wife and I both have iPhones and this makes the perfect remote video monitor
  • Remote pan/tilt
  • Audio monitoring (2-way audio would be a bonus)
  • A way for the Grandparents to view in on the baby

After looking at some baby video monitors (which didn't meet all the above requirements anyway) I realized that they're all over priced and most got pretty poor reviews. I was leaning towards getting an IP camera anyway, so this made the decision easier.

After looking at many different models, I ended up purchasing the Foscam IP Wireless/Wired Camera (Model: FI8908W). I looked at a few Axis cameras, which are great cameras, but really more expensive than I wanted to pay and really way more than I needed. I also seriously considered getting Astak Mole IP Camera—it met all my requirements, but just was a little more than I wanted to spend. Then just last weekend I stumbled across the Foscam camera. It met all my needs and I could get it shipped for around $95.

After playing around with the camera a bit last night, here's my findings:

  • The camera uses MJPEG for streaming video—which doesn't natively support audio. There is an ASF streaming URL you can access (which supposedly includes audio,) but I haven't found the necessary codec to view it with Windows Media Player. Supposedly VLC will play the stream fine, but I don't want to install another app if I don't have to.
  • Terrific night vision—I was really impressed with the quality in a pitch black room.
  • Pretty straight forward setup. While I found it easy/quick to setup, someone without good gadget skills might struggle a bit.
  • Decent integrate web-interface. While it has lots of options, it's not particularly user friendly. Fortunately, you can give out URLs straight to the stream for family members.
  • Multi-user configuration. You can have up to 8 separate user accounts. Users can either be an Administrator, Operator or Visitor. An Operator can do everything but change configuration—including changing the camera pan/tilt. A Visitor can only view the picture.
  • The picture quality is a little washed out, but seems to do well in low lighting. I've heard that replacing the lens can improve the coloring, but I think it's sufficient for monitoring purposes—I don't need exact color matching.

I would definitely say the camera is well worth the $100. I'm still playing around with it, but there's a nice iPhone app called Foscam IP Control for $1.99 that allows you to remote view the camera and alter the pan/tilt (it does lack a full screen mode.) Since I'm still not sure how I'm going to expose the camera to the world, I may end up changing apps but it works well.

If you decide this camera, you must watch out for Foscam clones. Apparently there are a slew of online resellers selling clones of the Foscam (same box, same design) that use a different firmware. Foscam has a list of authorized resellers on their site. I ended up using an eBay reseller named usahitec. I ordered the camera on Saturday for $95.60 (w/free priority shipping) and it got here yesterday (Wednesday.)

If you want more information on the Foscam camera, check out Gadget Victims has several really insight blog entries:

So far this seems like an excellent way to monitor my sleeping baby and give the out-of-town grandparents a way to keep up with the baby too!

Categories: Personal

10 Comments

  • After sending my wife this link:
    http://www.ustream.tv/SFShiba
    She said that she might consider getting a camera for our house to watch our dogs.
    But then she realized that we could just put a still picture up there instead and it would have about as much movement.
    But I suppose everyone having an IP camera is the way of the (near) future, especially with Skype nowadays.
  • @Phillip:

    They're definitely becoming more and more common. If it weren't for wanting a way to monitor the baby, I wouldn't have looked at one.

    However, it's pretty amusing to watch our dogs when they don't know I can see them--especially at night. It was also amusing to watch them when I had a doctor's appointment this morning.

    Lastly, from a security standpoint, I can see the benefits. Most of these cameras either come equipped with the ability to e-mail you when they detect motion, or you can buy software that will perform the task for you. Having experienced a break-in several years ago, I can see this being handy.
  • We had a camera with our first baby and realised it was quite pointless as audio is more than sufficient as they don't actually do anything except cry. All we did was wind ourselves up with all the odd little shadows and lights we would see on the VDU, ending up thinking there was ghosts in the room or something LOL.
    It was however quite interesting when he got a bit older (18+months) to see what they get up to when your not looking. We discovered he practised his standing and then walking when he was alone in his cot and didn't think we were watching, then would show off by mysteriously being able to stand with supposedly no practice.
    We gave up with the 2nd baby as the WIFI interfered with the camera and we found that every other wireless camera had the same problem.
  • We had a wireless (analogue) baby monitor (IR) with video attached to the TV, which was great to watch the little one - especilly in the early days. Only issue was recording, remote viewing and quality, since there was so much interference that the TV did not even sync the picture sometimes.

    Now using a Foscam 18w - and it's great. Amazing from the laptop and our smartphones - pan and tilt with the swipe of a finger. Online recording (using www.mangocam.com, sharing with the grand parents, watching him sleep, time lapse recording, motion detection - everything is possible. And he loves watching himself too :)

    Great article - really reminded me of our pregnancy preparation - and early days. Two - oops - just thumbs now - up.
  • I also had similar requirements when I was trying to find a way to watch and take care of my son and came up with same solution with you: using Foscam or Foscam Clone IP Cameras.
    But existing monitoring software did not meet my following wishes:
    -I did not want to listen to audio –not that high at all- coming from VLC or Internet Explorer all the time. I wanted get notified when my baby cries. (Actually detecting any audio activity is just fine)
    -Besides, I had worries about keeping him warm at night, since he occasionally kicks off his cover.

    So, I developed my own application to be used as Baby Monitor with IP Cameras, especially Foscam and Foscam Clones (MayGion).
    If you are interested please feel free to download and use my application.
    www.smartbabymonitor.com
  • I also had similar requirements when I was trying to find a way to watch and take care of my son and came up with same solution with you: using Foscam or Foscam Clone IP Cameras.
    But existing monitoring software did not meet my following wishes:
    -I did not want to listen to audio –not that high at all- coming from VLC or Internet Explorer all the time. I wanted get notified when my baby cries. (Actually detecting any audio activity is just fine)
    -Besides, I had worries about keeping him warm at night, since he occasionally kicks off his cover.

    So, I developed my own application to be used as Baby Monitor with IP Cameras, especially Foscam and Foscam Clones (MayGion).
    If you are interested please feel free to download and use my application.
    www.smartbabymonitor.com
  • Hi there,

    I'm also on the same boat. I was wondering if you had managed to fulfil one of your own requirements, as no mention to it is to be found at the wrap up (or at least I didn't quite see it). If the baby starts crying, does you receive an event on your iPhone? In other words, did you get real audio monitoring to work with the foscam?

    Thanks in advance
  • @Marc:

    I really didn't look very hard for anything that would send a notification when a noise occurred. Our daughter's room was close enough to ours, that we could either leave doors open and hear her fine or just use an audio monitor.

    When I'm working in my office, I'll just leave a VLC stream to the camera open--which allows me to listen in on her.

    So I basically didn't find any real need for the feature.
  • Hi there Dan,

    what a shame, I had put all my hopes on this!! :(

    thanks anyway. grab post! :)
  • @Marc:

    I'm not saying you can't find software that won't do it. The Foscam definitely has support for sound. There are a lot of 3rd party software packages that you could probably run on a local PC to do what you want. I just found I didn't really need it, so I never looked.

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