In the Zone
Night vision, two-way audio, USB host feature, supports WPA/WPA2.
Expensive, no built-in speaker, fuzzy image quality, crappy software.
At first glance, Zonet’s ZVC7630W Wi-Fi IP camera seems to be a lust-worthy device. It’s equipped with a two-way intercom, automatic night-vision mode, a USB port for external storage, and software that supports up to 16 cameras. Our enthusiasm dwindled, however, once we got our hands on the device.
We don’t have high expectations for a webcam's visual quality, but we certainly expect better than the fuzzy, color-shifting image that Zonet’s product streamed over a wired Ethernet connection—in broad daylight, no less. The camera is limited to a resolution of 640x480 pixels, but the video we saw looked worse than that no matter how much we fiddled with the focusing ring. And after our fourth trip running from the PC to the camera to adjust its focus, and then back to the PC to see the result, we began to wonder why they didn’t just slap a fixed-focus lens on the thing and be done with it.
You can configure the camera to operate on an IEEE 802.11g network (it supports WEP, WPA, and WPA2 security), but we found its range too limited to communicate with our D-Link DIR-655 router when the camera was outside the house. If your Wi-Fi network is secure, you’ll need to hardwire the camera to the network and program its firmware with your network password before you can redeploy it in wireless mode.
A light sensor and a ring of six infrared LEDs encircle the lens and automatically switch the camera to night-vision mode when it’s dark. We thought the two-way intercom would be an equally useful feature—until we realized that you need to provide a powered speaker at the camera end to actually make use of it. But if you’re thinking the camera would be terrific placed at a front door or gate, be aware that it has no mechanism for a visitor to get your attention to initiate a conversation—you’ll have to rig up a wireless doorbell , instead.
If you set up multiple cameras—the included software will support up to 16—only one of the cameras can use the talk feature at a time. The camera is also not weatherized, so you’ll need to purchase an enclosure should you decide to set it up outside (one that’s big enough to accommodate a speaker, if you intend to use the intercom).
The generic software Zonet provides is underwhelming.
The camera is equipped with a motion detector that can trigger video recording, but it has only two zones. Video clips can be recorded to either a host PC over the network connection or a USB storage device plugged directly into the camera (that outside enclosure just keeps getting bigger). The onboard USB port supplies 500mA of power to an attached device.
But our biggest complaint about the ZVC7630W isn’t with the hardware, it’s with the software. Compared to the slick user interface in Logitech’s WiLife webcam system, Zonet’s UltraView UI looks as though it was designed and laid out in 10 minutes. You use your web browser or mobile phone to monitor your camera over the Internet, but if you have multiple cameras, each stream must be viewed in a separate browser window. The WiLife system feeds all the cameras’ streams to a secure central server that Logitech operates. When you log into that server, you can see all the cameras’ streams in one convenient window (or you can cycle through each camera’s stream). Zonet has WiLife beat on the number of cameras that can be deployed, however; WiLife is limited to just six units.