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Panasonic BB-HCM581 IP Network Camera Review
Here's what the manufacturer says about this camera, which we bought
the other day for 630 quid (including VAT & delivery) from Network
And here's our opinion after two days testing.
BB-HCM581 is a PoE device; so it doesn't come with a DC power supply:
one can be ordered at additional cost. We just connected the camera
via Cat5 Ethernet cable to a Netgear FS108P PoE switch attached to a
Freecom FSG cable router. Then, after inserting the CD into our
laptop, the camera was soon available online. Panasonic software makes
it easy to set up this camera and others like it (e.g. BLC-131,
BLC-30, BLC-1 etc.).
Picture quality is not at all bad for something in this price range.
While the 'color night view' is particularly impressive, we have
noticed a few streaming aberrations over the LAN in MPEG4 mode which,
to be fair, might be a problem with our network. Otherwise the images
are pleasing and satisfactory, thought not as good as those produced
by some simple analogue cameras we have attached to Axis 247S video
However, the most impressive features of BB-HCM581 are its 21x optical
zoom lens and 360 degree panning ability that, unlike our Axis rigs,
can both be controlled remotely over the Internet. With BB-HCM581
sitting on the window ledge of a high-rise block, we are able to see
things our other cameras cannot, and in great detail. Whereas the
total panning facility affords access to much more of the available
scenery than ever in the past. I wouldn't place too much emphasis on
the digital zoom feature which, like most, is little more than a
gimmick. It's this camera's optical zoom lens we find awesome. Honest!
Other features worth noting a
1. SD card slot for recording stills and moving images onboard. Cards
up to 2Gb are supported. But no SD is supplied.
2. Two-way audio, which lets you hear what's happening at the remote
site and permits you to talk to anyone there. Might prove useful to
3. Analogue video/audio out for monitoring on a normal TV set (special
4. Remote sensor block for attaching external devices like
5. DC-in socket if PoE unavailable.
6. Ceiling-mount kit with plastic shroud to hide unsightly
7. Single channel version of Panasonic's IP Camera Recording Software
including free access to what they call 'Viewnetcam', which makes your
camera available to Internet users by giving it a unique domain.
8. Cell phone monitoring of still images.
9. Lens cap.
Now considerably poorer in pocket than this time last week we've
concluded that BB-HCM581 is a comprehensive out-of-box solution for
remote monitoring, provided you have something like our Netgear FS108P
or, say, a PowerDsine PD-3001 midspan available for attaching to your
cable or DSL router. Otherwise for this camera you will need a DC
power supply at extra cost.
In terms of raw picture quality and streaming skill, we don't think
that BB-HCM518 is as good as our reference system, comprising a JVC
TK-C920E analogue CCTV camera (with 5-50mm f1.3 Fujinon lens) and an
Axis 247S video server. But of course you cannot pan and zoom this
combo remotely, which is where BB-HCM581 comes into its own - and then
Indeed, if this camera were better built (it's made of plastic and
feels quite flimsy) and cheaper by around one hundred pounds I could
be more enthusiastic about it. Whereas we are just content with the
image quality and thrilled by the 21x zoom and 360 degree panning
So, would we buy another BB-HCM581?
Yes - probably: but in a few months, when the price will no doubt have
fallen a fair bit.
Finally - if you're looking for a really cheap IP monitoring solution
without the bells and whistles described above, check out Panasonic's
BLC-1 'Pet Cam'. At some 65 UK pounds (including VAT) - nearly one
tenth the cost of a BB-HCM581 - in our view BLC-1 offers astounding
picture quality and features that are unbeatable in this price range.
We have one of these in the boys' room and it's great for keeping an
eye on the wee rascals.
Panasonic BB-HCM581 IP Network Camera Review
Incidentally - the free single channel recording software provided
with this camera is BB-HNP11 and NOT BB-HNP15. So you cannot take
advantage of the MPEG4 stream available from the BB-HCM581. If you
need to record MPEG4 you will require the retail version of BB-HNP15
which costs about 250 UK pounds and supports up to 64 Panasonic
cameras. Alternatively you could use a third-party application like
Milestone XProtect Professional, which is a very cool product with
oddles of export options, including DIVX.
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