FOSCAM 8910W review as a baby cam

FOSCAM 8910W Product shotI wrote a bit about where hacked webcams end up, what I don’t think I wrote about is that I ended up purchasing one of them (presumably at least, they didn’t specify if it was the FOSCAM 8910W in the article but that appeared on Woot a day or two after,) to use as a baby monitor myself. After a month of using it I finally have a pretty good idea of the shortcomings and usefulness that can be this product.

If you’re looking for a TL;DR version of this, it’s that the thing is overly complex for the average user, the software is highly prone to failure, the video quality is meh, and the WiFi range is terrible with the included (but swappable,) antennae. Beyond that though the thing is pretty good at what it does and is priced reasonably, so your call.

FOSCAM 8910W as a baby monitor

Positioning/Installation

FOSCAM 8910W mounted on the wall

Here’s the thing that is problematic of all cameras and you probably don’t think about it when getting a webcam. Babies sleep in large slatted cribs, and as such you need to perch the camera so that the line of site is not impacted by the slats.

While this seems a bit obvious, and the FOSCAM 8910W has accounted for that with a very long power cable (about 10 feet?) you still have the rather large base that allows the camera to be remotely operated, and a WiFi transmitter base that’s on the camera itself.

Probably a better design would have been a shorter power cord and to run the WiFi and non-essential stuff closer to the power. When it’s mounted on a wall, due to the base and easily separatable mounting adapter, the thing is about 8″ off the wall, so it provides a nice perch but takes up some real estate.

You’ll find that unless the power outlet is directly below your camera the cable is never long enough, and if it is the cable is too long for a baby’s room. You’ll need to secure a loop of cable somewhere.

FOSCAM 8910W measures upI’m lucky that we had a nail hole in the wall already at the perfect height, I would have taken two or three holes in the wall before finding the right angle and height for my crib.

WiFi issues

The FOSCAM 8910W connects just fine to WiFi-N, but the performance is terrible. This is potentially due to the massive amount of data that the thing is sending, but in my house one room down and one room over from the WiFi access point it was next to unusable.

I slapped in a range extender device into the baby’s room, and that works fine. The range extender is probably slightly further away than the FOSCAM 8910W is, so I’m positing that the camera’s WiFi transmitter is weak and puny.

Without the range extender, I could get a frame or two per second. With it I can’t see how fast it’s going, it looks pretty real time.

Application issues

FOSCAM 8910W just hanging outThe FOSCAM viewer software for Android at least, well. Imagine that you woke up one night with a vague feeling that something wasn’t right and you looked at the tablet that you had dedicated at night to streaming your webcam and you saw a baby bathed in the night vision/low color lighting screaming her lungs out but no sound was coming out.

That’s the image that stuck with me when the application dropped the audio stream and did not ever reconnect it. As a baby monitor the application is useless for anything other than video I’ve decided, and even then I’ve seen the video stream drop and not be reconnected.

It’s not rocket surgery to check and see if there’s been any data coming across the audio for a while and provide an audible warning that a stream is down. This is what really needed to happen with this… I would rather have been woken at 3am by an application telling me it wasn’t working than at 4 seeing a ghostly looking screaming baby with tears gushing out of her eyes.

Besides that, the web application allows you to reposition the camera and I’m really not sure how it works. Sometimes pressing up will make the camera go up, sometimes down, left may rotate the camera or make it go up. Up right and down right seem to do different things. I generally prefer going to a computer to attempt to position it remotely.

I’ve noted many times I’ll wake up and the FOSCAM application that’s running on my tablet will be sitting at a FOSCAM screen instead of the video. Luckily I have IE running on my computer to provide audio so at least I can hear.

Browser issues

The FOSCAM 8910W has a web interface that supports mobile, Internet Explorer (ActiveX), and all others (Server push mode). Internet Explorer works like a charm, I won’t deny that. I don’t use Internet Explorer though unless absolutely required, which unfortunately in this case it is. IE is the only way to keep the audio stream running.

They suggest using a VLC plugin to make Chrome, Firefox, etc work, but what I discovered was that really didn’t work very well and also seemed to drop audio when it felt like it. Nothing against VLC, but it’s not designed by default to deal with a webcam that stops streaming audio occasionally.

Performance

The FOSCAM 8910W, for all I’ve put it down so far, actually works great as a pop-in webcam. The night vision is creepy good, the audio pickup is pretty sweet except it can blow your speakers when a baby’s crying.

I’d originally intended to slap a thermostat in visible range as some baby monitors have those built in, unfortunately the resolution is too low to see my little Honeywell thermometer. The video claims it’s 640×480, but with compression and pixilation you’re lucky to be able to detail 300×200

While I’m currently not cool enough to post an animated video of my screen, I have taken a picture and will describe what I’m seeing.

FOSCAM Snow

The section that’s circled and numbered one is a puke-pink wall. It’s exactly the same in tone and Pepto-Bismalness throughout. It should be fairly solid and unchanging even allowing for variations in source lighting.

It looks a little like the walls are flowing Pepto Bismal either due to the compression or the camera picking up light changes that are not there. An image taken one second apart in a room that’s the same should not look noticeably different.

Circle #2 looks like ants are marching along the slats when viewed in real time. It’s like jaggy JPEG compression gone wrong.

Circle #3 looks like a Christmas animated GIF at full speed. Each item seems to suddenly have an aura and then it’s gone.

Night vision mode works perfectly, however I forgot to snap a picture of it so this review goes up without one until I remember. Oh wait, due to magical powers of editing later on it’s down below… like I intended… yeah.

FOSCAM 8910W nightvision

Audio issues

I’m told the iOS app may have a different interface, but the audio on the webcam when speaking to someone on the other end is nearly unusable.

Basically you say something and you start hearing yourself talk shortly afterward. Usually about a half second to a second delay. Unless you turn the speaker audio off, at least on the web interface, it’s pretty terrible. Needs to be push to talk rather than how it is.

Setup

Setting this thing up for WiFi takes skills. You might want to go grab the neighbor’s teenager to do it. You’re going to need access to your WiFi’s configuration section (admin access), a spare network cable as the included one seems to be broken in half the FOSCAM 8910W’s I’ve run across, and a bit of knowledge about port forwarding if you want to view the thing from outside the house.

The first hurdle here is you’ll need to make your WiFi router (or whatever provides IP addresses for your network,) give the FOSCAM 8910W wireless card the same address every time. On my system I have to set up a DHCP reservation for it, I’m assuming that’s pretty standard across the board. I actually don’t deal with many home routers for DHCP as in a corporate environment that’s passed out by a server usually… so your mileage may vary.

To do this you’ll first have to hardwire the camera into your network. After you’ve hardwired it you can locate it using the FOSCAM software that’s included with the thing  there’s a little locator app. Then you can hit the IP address that locator app gives you, and connect the wired camera to your wireless network. Once that’s done you can go into your Wireless router and make sure the IP address it’s given to the wireless stays reserved to that wireless.

After that it’s a matter of port forwarding. I forward my external ports to the default port 80 internal ones using NAT, but you might want to do it differently if you’re using something that doesn’t port translate well.

Before you do all that though, you’ll probably want to make sure your firmware is updated.

Wrap-up

The FOSCAM 8910W not particularly user friendly, not something I can fully trust due to the audio, or requiring Internet Explorer to play said audio, and the Android software for it is terrible looking like it was designed as someone’s first application project and built on top of with controls that seem to change based on mood.

It is, however, pretty cheap and if you’re IT/tech savvy you’ll have no problem setting it up. I wouldn’t use it as a baby cam unless you have backup audio or are near, and there are newer versions of the product that contain temperature monitors and supposedly have better video.

The FOSCAM 8910W is available from Amazon for $79.25.

Notes at seven months (May 2014)

Data use

If a camera is associated with another camera, when the primary camera is opened in Internet Explorer the ActiveX plugin will open all associated cameras and start streaming even if they’re not up for display.

I found this out when I hit my Comcast data cap because the ActiveX plugin was streaming from a camera it had been previously associated with on the internet. That camera was pushing 250K per second, or about nine gigabytes an hour.

Generally this is not going to happen to people. I’m special.

Reliability

While the camera keeps chugging along, the only reliable viewer seems to be the computer based versions. The Foscam viewers for Apple and Android don’t reconnect when the stream is lost, or at least they don’t in my setup.

On the desktop side, the ActiveX/Internet Explorer version seems to be the most stable and useful as the VLC plugin version doesn’t try a reconnect. This is the only time I’m ever going to say to use Internet Explorer for anything.

Support

I’ve contacted Foscam support for help twice now via their support link, there is no support as far as I can tell.

Updated at 8 months in with a different piece

2 / 5 stars