So, I recently had a Home Depot gift card about to expire.  It was going to either be another flashlight (which are always handy)

or this deal was going on for a Foscam FI8910W Wireless IP camera.  I’ve heard of these things; but figured I’d give it a shot.  It has some great features:

  • Day and night (up to about 10-15 feet – not the 8 meters they assert)
  • Wireless N or wired connectivity
  • 300 degree pan, 120 degree tilt – remotely controllable from pcs or mobile devices like phones
  • 2-way audio (listen and speak!)
  • Auto-detection of motion and broadcast+email of images from the device

The long and short is that it works great when set up; but the setup and software certainly can leave a lot to be desired.  At least the Foscam forums are easy to use and full of help.  You’ll be using them a lot.  While I was eventually able to solve my problems; I wasted a good 2 hours setting this thing up.  Unfortunately, the part that’s lacking is really the software stack.  It really does feel like a bunch of first-year computer programmers put this thing together.  They have a lot of features and they do seem to work, but they’re all very picky and error-prone.  You have to set up things jusssssst right. If you do accidentally make a mistake or set up a feature in conflict with another – it doesn’t report a problem, it just doesn’t work and doesn’t tell you why or even what is wrong.  Just 20 more minutes of coding for it to say ‘password wrong’ or ‘IP conflict’ or something like that would have solved 90% of these problems; but you won’t get that.  It’s the classic pain of trying to second-guess what the programmers were trying to do, what you know the stack needs to do, and using the woefully underpowered knobs to get it to do that. Problems that I encountered:

  1. Setting up the ability to watch the camera over the internet (not just locally)
    I credit the Foscam for the fact each camera actually gets its on unique hosting web address from Foscam.  That is slick.  However, getting it to work was a real pain.  Can’t remember all the details at this point, but check the forum for the common problems and solutions.  I remember I could easily control the camera locally on the network, but getting the camera to work through their web hosting was the pain.
  2. Setting up the auto-email on motion detection
    This was just a painful experience in bad software/firmware design.  Once you have #1 set up, it should be trivial to have the camera email you the pictures when it senses motion/audio.  The setup screen is fairly straightforward.  Type in the email address(es) you want the camera to mail pictures to; set the parameters for alerts (motion/audio events) and hit ok.  Well, I got these horrible problems where the camera would not save the settings.  I’d enter the data, enter the admin password to change the settings, then look at the info panel again and see the old settings.  Infuriating!  It turns out, the Foscam admin password CANNOT ACCEPT SPECIAL CHARACTERS.  If  you have any special characters in your admin password ($%#^!&*, etc) – then you basically just locked yourself out of changes.  I had to hit the hardware reset, pick a generic password, and only then did my changes stick.  Worse was that it didn’t tell you this anywhere or warn you when you were picking the admin password.  It would just act like it saved the settings, but not and merrily go on its way.
  3. Motion detection with still images is pretty much broken/useless
    When you use the email stills when motion happens feature, 1 out of 2 times the person is long gone by the time the shot fires.  I tested it a couple times, and you need a full 2 seconds of the person moving in the field of view before the shot is taken.  If someone just walks across the path of view, most of the time you get an email of an empty room.  I believe the recording of video option is better, but you better make the field of view big or place the camera such that it will have a full 2 seconds of the person moving in the target area before the shot fires.
  4. Auto-panning
    The camera had a nasty habit of going into auto-scanning paning/tiling mode when it got confused.  So you’d see/hear the little camera looking all over the place every now and again if you logged in or it reset itself.  I disabled the feature in software and it stopped.

Supposedly these are some of the better cameras out there.  But if that’s the case – then I’m disappointed.  It was worth it since it was nearly free to me; but if I’d paid the list price on this thing – I’d have been pretty upset and took it back.  It works great now; but the setup was painful and it’s poor auto-notification of motion detection give it two solid strikes.



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