WeatherMatrix (Jesse Ferrell)
What Kind of Weather Webcam Should I Buy?
By Jesse Ferrell, Meteorologist/Community Director
1/18/2014, 5:28:20 PM
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UPDATE 1/19/2014: I've reviewed the Dropcam and it takes the cake, hands down!
As the resident "gadget guy" here at AccuWeather, I've reviewed a lot of webcams (which can be used as "weather cams) in my tenure here. My first webcam launched in 1997, and I currently run more than a dozen webcams), including the AccuWeather Webcam Network. When I got a question about time-lapse webcam recommendations from a Twitter user, I thought I'd summarize the network cameras I've reviewed, with pros and cons, along with links to my reviews from the past (especially with Christmas coming up!)
I generally recommend Network cameras because you don't have to run a computer 24/7 to use them (like USB cameras), so all my reviews here are for that type. Generally they are available as indoor wired or wireless (more expensive) and can FTP static images.
- Sharx (my 2013 review) are the only webcams I've tested that will save unlimited motion-detected or recorded video to your hard drive (via their MultiLive software, which displays 4+ cams on the screen, example below), the Internet, or automatically to a memory card on the camera itself. But of course, like all video files, they get large* over time. They do a good job of night video, and they do have an outdoor HD camera now, but I haven't been able to test it yet. They are fairly inexpensive on Amazon (as low as $100).I've reviewed the SCNC3605SN, SCNC2606N, and SCNC2607W models. At this point, these are my recommended low-cost webcams.
- StarDot (my 2008 review | my 2012 review) continues to offer the largest, highest-resolution picture and video stream, but there is no (easy) way to save that video stream. They do motion detection for still frames. Their con is their cost, which is generally $1,000-$1,500 for an outdoor cam, though they sometimes cut the price by as much as half on Black Fridays. I've used the NetCamXL 2.5 and 3 MP models.
- Dropcam is a new company offering a unique service -- they will record your security cam's video feed to "the cloud" (store it on their servers) and allow you to review the video there, minute-by-minute. This comes at a cost, though: In addition to $150-$200 for the camera, you'll shell out $100/yr to store the last seven days or $250/yr for the last month. I can't recommend Dropcam yet because I haven't reviewed their camera (coming soon), but it sounds like a neat service that won't leave you struggling with large videos and external hard drives, yet you'll have the ability to review, say, a lightning strike exploding your back yard (although that particular video WAS recorded with a DVR and it's possible Dropcam wouldn't have stored all the frames).
- Panasonic (my 2008 & 2011 reviews | my 2012 review) has historically offered good low-priced Network Cameras (some under $100), and have increased to HD 720p resolution. They also have multiple-display software (see below), but it is low-resolution, all in the browser and can be challenging to view without Internet Explorer. There is no easy way to record the video, and the newer cameras seem to lag behind by 5-10 seconds, even if the buffer is turned off, which is no good for home security. I've reviewed the BL-C1A, BL-C20A, BL-C10A/BL-C111A, BL-C30A/BL-C131A, and BL-VT164P models, over the years.
- Axis used to market network cameras to consumers (in fact they were one of the first companies to come out with network cameras) but they got more into the corporate security camera business, especially overseas. The first "AccuCam" was an Axis 2100 that I tested in 2002, and officially installed on AccuWeather.com in 2005. For what it's worth, it was running until last year when it was decommissioned to be prepared to ship to our New York City office (a promise Programmer Guy Brian hasn't met yet).
- First Alert is the only offline system I've tested (the wireless DWS-472. While it will record video (motion or continuous) to a memory card on the console, there is literally no way to open the proprietary-format videos on your computer (trust me, I've Googled it). As far as a stand-alone security system (4-split-screen or alternating video), it works well, and I do use it in my living room to watch the dog out back and the driveway in front -- it's just a pity that I can't get those videos online, especially with the price (even for one camera) at $300-$400.
All that said... If price isn't an option and you need a quick, reliable, recordable solution out-of-the-box, in theory a First Alert wired DVR system, or a copycat (cheaper & wireless) system from various vendors on Amazon. However, without testing them, I can't recommend them. Also a warning on those prices -- a lot of the time they DON'T include the hard drive!
It's also worth pointing out that you can screen capture video from the camera window of any webcam with Microsoft Expression Encoder. (I used to use Techsmith Camtasia 7.0 but the files stopped capturing properly (frames out of order) recently on Windows 7 and Camtasia 7 couldn't support files larger than 1024x768).
The cons of going that route are that the files get very large* very quickly, and the choppiness of the feed is no better than what you're seeing in your live cam window. Once you have that file, you can then speed it up in Camtasia, Cyberlink PowerDirector, or Adobe Premiere (maybe Expression too, I haven't tried) to make a time-lapse.
*The problems with having video files that are too large can include requiring an additional hard drive, and in some cases files being too big to import or move from computer to computer. Windows file systems tend to not like files over 4 GB, which is why the GoPro videocamera (my review) restarts your video file when it gets to that size. BTW, you can (in theory) make a webcam out of a GoPro, but I've never tried it.
Just stay away from those Linksys cameras, whatever you do :)
DISCLAIMERS: These are my opinions only, for these specific models only. In some cases, product was supplied for the review.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com
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