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Remote Video Monitoring with the 
    Creative Live! Wireless Internet Camera
    (8/2006)

    by Douglas Dixon

Creative Live! Wireless
Setting Up
Monitoring Video from a Browser
The Camera Center
Remote Access
And More
References

    See also: WebCams for Video Blogging, Conferencing, and Surveillance

Webcams just make video fun, with the immediate gratification of capturing short clips, plus live video messaging across the Internet. Plus, webcams can be used for remote monitoring, some even with motion detection -- to watch for the arrival of a delivery truck out the front window, or to catch the cat jumping on the counter. But you don't necessarily want to tie up a computer to act as a video server for a connected webcam, so a better option for this kind of use is to use a dedicated Internet camera with a built-in network interface, like the Creative Live! Wireless.

        Creative Live! Wireless

After all, while DV and HDV camcorders are great for shooting and editing higher-quality videos, webcams are much more accessible and much more affordable for these kinds of dedicated uses. And there are lots of options for consumer web cameras like the Creative WebCams (www.creative.com/products/webcams) and Logitech QuickCams (www.logitech.com), with even inexpensive $50 cameras now offering 640 x 480 video, and $130 cameras with pan and tilt controls. These products also include a range of software for motion detection, fun effects, and even face tracking.

But webcams are designed to plug in to a computer, typically with a USB 2.0 connection. The camera pours the video (and associated audio) down the wire, and you then need to run software on the computer to process the data -- converting formats and displaying the video -- or to act as a server so you can access the video from other networked machines. But if your main use is this kind of remote monitoring, then you don't want to tie up a computer doing all this video processing and resending -- plus, using a dedicated network camera is more turn-key and reliable than using a computer and software on a general-purpose computer.

Creative Live! Wireless

For continuous remote monitoring, a better solution is a product like the Creative Live! Wireless, introduced in early 2006 for US $149 list (www.creative.com/products/product.asp?product=14276). This is basically a USB camera attached to a small network base station, so it can be freed from being tethered to a computer. Instead, put the Live! Wireless camera wherever you need to, set up the wireless connection (or plug in to an Ethernet connection), and you can access it from anywhere on your home network -- or even configure it for remote access across the Internet.

   

Creative has done a great job of making this camera easy to set up and easy to access, with wizards to step through the setup, simple access to the video using a Web browser, plus its own Camera Center software to monitor up to four cameras at the same time.

Plus, Creative has adding some interesting bonus features, including e-mail alerts on motion detection, an auxiliary USB port for remote access to an external disk drive, and remote access through your own personal Web address.

Setting Up

The Creative Live! Wireless camera comes in two parts: the small camera and the network server box. The camera has an adjustable focus ring and "multi-attach" base, so you can stand it by itself, clip it to a window or a monitor, or install it with the included wall mount bracket.

The base unit is very light and quite small (around 4 x 4 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches). The front panel has LEDs to show when it's connected, and the rear panel has the wireless antenna, an Ethernet port for a wired network connection, two USB ports (one for the camera), and the power connector.

The Live! Wireless is a breeze to set up. Plug it in (wired) to your home network, and it connects into the network through your router (DHCP). Then run the Creative Internet Camera Setup Wizard software, which looks around your local network and finds the camera. You then can change camera settings including the name (when working with multiple cameras), time zone and time, and username and password for secured access. You also can set up the camera for access as Wired, Unsecured Wireless (802.11 b/g), or Secured Wireless with WEP (Wireless Equivalent Privacy) / WPA-PSK (Wi-Fi Protected Access-Pre-Shared Key) enabled.

        Setup Wizard

You can change these settings later from the Camera Center or Web interfaces, including the IP address, wireless network and security keys, network ports, and video streaming options. There's also a separate Creative Internet Camera Diagnostics utility to check the camera and network operation.

        Diagnostics utility

Monitoring Video from a Browser

Once the Live! Wireless camera is live on your local network, you can connect to it from any computer without installing any other software. Just fire up Internet Explorer, enter the camera's IP address (displayed during setup), and connect to the built-in Web server in the base unit. Enter your user name and password, and the browser opens up the Creative Live! Wireless server with video playing in the window (thanks to an ActiveX control).

        Browser access

The camera captures video at up to 640 x 480 resolution and up to 15 frames per second, and delivers video in Motion JPEG format for real-time monitoring. Simply click to switch between a small, medium, or large video display, and to adjust the view with Bright, Contrast, and Color (it has automatic exposure control and white balance). You also can save the video settings for future use.

Click Advanced to view and change the camera settings, and Administration to change the networking setup. The Live! Wireless also includes a firmware upgrade feature.

The Advanced settings also include a Motion Detection feature that can send e-mail notifications with a video image when change is detected in the video. You can set the e-mail server and address, and specify the rate at which e-mails are sent. This is really designed for an area in which there should be no activity -- Unlike dedicated surveillance systems, there are no options to set the sensitivity or specify a rectangular region to monitor for changes, and no other notifications other than e-mail (such as an audio alert or an overlay on the video).

The Camera Center

Beyond Web monitoring, you can install the Creative Internet Camera Center software to grab images and videos, and monitor up to four cameras. The main Camera Center screen switches between My Cameras to view the available cameras, and My Recordings, to manage pictures and videos.

In My Cameras mode, you can click to Pause monitoring, Snap Photo to grab a video frame, or Record a video clip. Photos are saved in JPEG format and videos as Windows Media Video (WMV), at medium 320 x 240 resolution.

Then click to switch to My Recordings mode to view your recorded photos and video clips. Create provides file explorer and calendar views, with thumbnails. You can preview the recordings, or crop photos and make simple exposure adjustments. There's also a Video Stitch tool to make a video from a group of still photos.

   

The Camera Center also provides access to Camera Settings, plus can launch the Web interface for Advanced settings. You can set the camera to feed video in real time with RTP (frames per second), or at intervals with HTTP (seconds per frame).

And since the camera is a network server, you can monitor the video feed from several different systems at the same time.

Remote Access

But what about when you are away from home? Live! Wireless can also be set up to tunnel through your router so you can access the video feed via the Internet -- on a notebook, a PDA, or even a cell phone (now you know why it requires a user name and password).

To set up remote access, use the Internet Camera Setup Wizard to update the DMZ setting in your router to make the camera accessible from outside your local network (or you can do this manually to create the required opening in your firewall). 

        Remote Setup

Then you can create a free DDNS (Dynamic Domain Name Service) account on the Creative server, so you can access your camera from any Web browser using a convenient name instead of an IP address (i.e., yourname.creativeddns.com). Up to four guest accounts then can log in to access the camera remotely

And More

As an added bonus, the network base unit for the Live! Wireless has an extra USB connector that you can use to share files by plugging in a USB flash drive or hard drive. To view your files use Access Files in the Web interface, which opens an FTP interface to the camera device in Windows Explorer so you can browse the directories and drag and drop files.

The Live! Wireless camera unit also can be used as a dedicated webcam by connecting it directly to a computer's USB port and installing the appropriate driver. However, it does not have a microphone for audio -- you'll have to use your sound card.

The Creative Live! Wireless fits its purpose nicely -- running happily for extended periods feeding video across the network, and easy to access just using a Web browser. You can put it anywhere with the wireless connection, and also use a wired connection if available. The lens focus is adjustable, though a wider-angle lens would be helpful for monitoring larger areas.

References

Creative Live! Wireless
    www.creative.com/products/product.asp?product=14276

Creative - Webcams
    www.creative.com/products/webcams

Logitech - QuickCams
    www.logitech.com