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Astak Mole Internet Camera

Webcams are great for connecting to your computer to shoot short videos, or to use for video phone calls (see post on Logitech QuickCams). And Internet cameras go the next step to break the tether to a computer by building in networking support, so you can position them anywhere, and then access them over your home network, or even over the Internet (see post on Logitech Wilife).

But as these cameras need more intelligence to be more useful for security monitoring and surveillance, to alert you when someone is coming up to the door or the delivery truck arrives.

So they still need a computer in the loop, to monitor the video flowing over the network, detect motion, send out alerts, and capture the video. This requires running monitoring software on one of your home PCs, or perhaps on a server system over the Internet.

But in these days of smarter devices, why not cram all this functionality -- and more -- into the camera itself, as a stand-along device like the Astak Mole Internet Camera, part of a family of cameras and related devices from Astak.

The Mole is an Internet camera that can stream video over your local network, or over the Internet, to view on with a standard Web browser, or on an iPhone or other Internet-enabled mobile devices.

It packs an amazing collection of features and options into a compact package (around 5 x 4 x 5 inches and 12 ounces), for around $299.

The camera also supports two-way audio with a built-in microphone, and mic and headphone jacks. You set up it up through the browser interface, including pan/tilt adjustments to point the camera remotely, and enabling IR lighting for better night vision.

Plus the Mole has built-in software for motion detection, with alerts -- and it's a stand-alone DVR, saving video / audio clips locally on SD card storage. Or you can send alerts as images by e-mail, upload video clips by FTP or YouTube, and even send out Twitter notices.

The setup menus are accessed from a browser (after login and password), and offer extensive options for recording and playback, image and video quality, network configuration and alerts, and system status and logs.

The Mole uses the Yoics service for remote access from the Internet into your wired home. This is free software that has a much more sophisticated scope just accessing a remote camera -- Yoics is designed to provide remote Internet access to local computers (Windows or Mac) and networked devices, without the need for technical intervention to navigate though your home network setup and routers.

Yoics effectively publishes your folders and files, printers and cameras, as a Web server (read the name as "Your Own Internet Connected Stuff"). The free service includes basic sharing and limited web services, and there's a “Pro” premium service plan that offers more connections to services and longer connection times.

The Mole, then, has an impressive collection of features, reasonably implemented, with a broad range of useful options. There are rough edges (I need to refresh after each login), but it's also quite robust at recovering from network disconnects. However, the Mole not for the faint of heart -- there's no help integrated in the web browser interface, and no detailed documentation available online for all the features (like the schedule page with a 7 x 3 x 4 grid of drop-down menus for recording times).

Even so, the Mole is great fun to experiment with, and demonstrates how far a small networked camera can be enhanced into an integrated security system, with support for built-in, local, and remote access for control and monitoring.

See more on webcams and Internet cameras in my Home Media Gallery

    Find one of the Astak Internet Cameras on Amazon.com



Some details:

The Mole starts as an Internet camera, supporting both wired Ethernet and Wi-Fi wireless networking. It auto-configures as possible, and supports simultaneous browsing by up to five users at a time. You can connect over your local network by just using the IP address (there's a CamSearch tool to find the address on your network).

The camera captures video at up to 30 frames per second in low-res to VGA resolution (160 x 120, 320 x 240, 640 x 480 res), in MPEG-4 H.264 format that compresses well for network transmission and is playable on many systems and devices. You can adjust the video resolution, compression quality, contrast and color, and enable auto white balance and night vision modes.

The camera controls include brightness and contrast, white balance, flip/mirror, time stamp / ID tags, and night vision mode. (Night vision enables the ring of IR lights around the lens, although these just reflect glare when you are pointing the camera out a glass window.)

For surveillance use, you can set up to four rectangular regions for motion tracking, each with independent sensitivity levels, and schedule tomes during the week. When motion is detected, you can send alerts by e-mail with an image attachment, save frame grab images or video to the SD card, or save video clips remotely to an FTP server, and then upload to YouTube and even send a tweet on your Twitter account. You also can automatically capture images at regular intervals and save to the SD card or send by e-mail.

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This entry posted on December 30, 2009.

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