Once you’ve settled on either analogue or newer digital IP technology, security cameras come in two main types: static cameras pointing in one direction, and pan-tilt-and-zoom (PTZ) cameras that can scan from side to side and zoom their lenses in and out.
The latter can often be recognised by being less obviously camera-like, hidden behind darkened domes lest the object of their focus should be aware the camera is pointing their way.
The Y-cam Solutions EyeBall drifts from the norm, as it’s a fixed IP camera hiding in the domed body of a PTZ-style housing.
Or as Y-cam bills it, the world’s first Push & Point mini-dome IP camera.
Y-cam EyeBall: Features
In essence, the Y-cam EyeBall is a budget sub-megapixel IP video camera sited in a finger-movable dome. You press the spherical business end of the unit in slightly to loosen it, swivel it by hand into position, then release to lock it in place again.
Designed for ceiling or wall mounting, the Y-cam EyeBall includes a separate white box attached by a thick 20cm-long umbilical cable, to which you connect an external power plug.
The Y-cam EyeBall is also designed for powering up through the 10/100 ethernet port here, using the PoE standard. Another jack allows audio output, for two-way intercom communications, in conjunction with a hidden built-in microphone on the main dome.
Build quality is tidy, made of shiny white plastic with a sturdy looking break-out box to connect cables. Moving the camera ball around is simple enough, with 360-degree of rotation possible, but bear in mind the transparent dome over the lens is mode of soft plastic so will scuff and scratch if mishandled.
For network connectivity you can use either ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless, but only to 802.11g standard.
You set up the camera through a web browser, and three video streams are available, with a maximum resolution available of just 640 x 480 pixels (0.3 megapixel). This res, or lower, can be set for the first two MPEG-4 streams, while the third is reserved for streaming to mobile devices with MJPEG, at a resolution down to 176 x 144 pixels.
Y-cam MultiLive software for Windows and Mac is included for viewing and recording camera streams, and Y-Cam also offers an app for iPhone/iPad for simple camera monitoring.
Y-cam EyeBall: Setup and performance
Setup of the Y-cam EyeBall is relatively easy as IP cameras go. And UPnP support on the camera means it will automatically open the correct port on a supported home router. This is essential if you wish to stream video beyond the bounds of your home or office network.
Picture quality is quite usable, if far from high resolution. The fixed-focus lens is unusually wide-angle, allowing an excellent field of view, albeit with some visual distortion that renders images almost fisheye-like.
Low-light performance is reasonable, although there is no supplemental infrared coverage as you get from the company’s Y-cam Knight models, with their ring of IR diodes around the lens.
Best image recording is found using Windows or a compatible NAS drive, such as those from Synology with its DSM 3.2 software. We tried it with the Synology DS1511+. The Y-cam MultiLive for Windows software uses some light additional video compression, resulting in Microsoft .asf format video.
Meanwhile a NAS setup can capture video streams as they are sent from the camera, in original MPEG-4 format.
The Macintosh Y-cam MultiLive v2 software is the most disappointing here, as it recompresses the video stream to rather poor MPEG-1 video, resulting in conspicuous macro blocking and mosquito noise.
Despite setting the stream to 25fps, we noticed the resulting recordings were conspicuously jerky – we’d estimate the framerate to be more like 5fps.
Mac users may be better served by the excellent SecuritySpy software, available from Ben Software from £29.90.
Y-cam's Windows and Mac software both allow recording direct to the PC, either continuous or initiated by the motion detection trigger. You can also record to local storage on the camera, using the microSD card slot. That could be handy for cameras that you can’t readily connect to a wired or wireless network, letting you retrieve footage later from the internal card.
Mobile apps are also available for BlackBerry and Android. We found it easy to get a working image on an iPhone using the free Y-cam app for iOS. The app is not coded for the larger screen of the iPad though, so you have to use Apple’s 2x scale feature to fill the screen with a further pixellated image.
But the ease with which you can setup this feature for remote viewing, over 3G as well as Wi-Fi, recommends itself very well to less technical users.