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I’ve been recently looking into getting a home monitoring system just to keep an eye on things around the house. With the advent of wireless connectivity and easy setup becoming cheaply available to everyone and everywhere I knew I had to look for a self-contained, wireless unit, that is fairly easy to setup and most importantly competitively priced as it wasn’t going to be used for anything fancy. My hunt for such a camera lead to systems that where in a price category that most consumers would not consider (well north of $250, in some cases above the $500 price point), especially since it was just meant to be used around my home and not as security system for a business for example. On top of that most of them required professional setup, used proprietary, complex software and were difficult to integrate in your existing wireless network. After this, my search led me to the Linksys WVC54GCA Wireless-G Internet Home Monitoring Camera, which seemed to have all the requirements I wanted and thus seemed liked the perfect home monitoring camera for the average consumer. The most intriguing aspect of the camera was that it didn’t need some difficult and proprietary software to access the streaming video, but in fact just about any browser could be used. It seemed too good to be true, but does it deliver? Read on as I put the WVC54GA through its paces.

Features

  • Sends high-quality live audio and video to your network wirelessly – viewable from most web browsers, anywhere in the world
  • Built-in video stream encoder and stand-alone web server – no PC necessary
  • Security Mode automatically sends email alerts with video clips upon motion detection
  • Supports MPEG-4 and MJPEG video at up to 640×480, and up to four simultaneous remote users

Specifications

  • Model: WVC54GCA
  • Standards: IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.3
  • Ports: Ethernet, Power
  • Buttons: Reset
  • LEDs: Power
  • Cabling: Type Cat5
  • Number of Antennas: 1 Internal
  • Connector: Type N/A
  • Detachable Antenna: No
  • UPnP able/cert: UPnP Advertise
  • .Net Support: N/A
  • Security Features: WEP-64, WEP-128, WPA, WPA2
  • Image Sensor: CMOS
  • Lens Fixed: Focus
  • Resolution 640 x 480, 320 x 240, 160 x 128
  • Relative Illumination: 5.1 Lux
  • Effective Focus: 3 mm
  • Sensitivity: 3.0V/Lux-sec
  • Field of View: 61.48 degrees
  • Compression Algorithm MPEG-4 and MJPEG
  • Record File Format: ASF
  • Brightness: Auto/Manual Adjustment

Environmental

  • Dimensions: 3.54″ x 4.72″ x 1.46″ (90 x 120 x 37 mm)
  • Weight: 0.29 lb (130 g)
  • Power: 5V 1A
  • Certification: FCC, CE, CB, UL, C-Tick, PSB/SPRING, IDA
  • Operating Temp.: 32 to 104°F (0 to 40°C)
  • Storage Temp.: -4 to 158°F (-20 to 70°C)
  • Operating Humidity: 10 to 80%, Noncondensing
  • Storage Humidity: 0 to 90%, Noncondensing

Package Contents

  • Wireless-G Internet Home Monitoring Camera
  • Camera Stand/Wallmount
  • Power Adapter
  • Ethernet Network Cable
  • Start Here Folder
  • Setup Wizard CD-ROM
  • User Guide included on CD-ROM
  • Quick Installation Guide

Minimum Requirements—1 Camera

  • PC with 2 GHz or Faster Processor
  • 512 MB RAM
  • Microsoft Windows 2000, XP or Vista
  • 500 MB of Available Hard Drive Space
  • Graphics Card with a Minimum of 128 MB
  • Internet Explorer 6.0 or Higher, Mozilla Firefox, and Netscape 7.0 or Higher
  • DirectX 9.0 or Higher
  • CD-ROM Drive
  • Windows Media Player 9 or Higher

Minimum Requirements—Up to 9 Cameras

  • PC with 3 GHz Dual-Core Processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • Microsoft Windows 2000, XP or Vista
  • 4 GB of Available Hard Drive Space
  • Graphics Card with a Minimum of 256 MB
  • Internet Explorer 6.0 or Higher, Mozilla Firefox, and Netscape 7.0 or Higher
  • Cable/DSL Connection for Internet Viewing
  • Active-X 8.0 or Higher
  • CD-ROM Drive
  • Windows Media Player 9 or Higher

The Linksys WVC54GCA

The Linskys WVC54GCA which officially has the rather lengthy name of Linskys WVC54GCA Wireless-G Internet Home Monitoring Camera is the successor of Linksys’ previous Wireless-G camera: The WVC54GC. The name might seem like an Alphabet soup of some random numbers and letters when in fact the “WVC” part stands for Wireless Video Camera and the “54G” is an indication of the camera’s maximum 54 Mbit/s of data transfer rate used by the Wireless-G or 802.11g standard, which the camera supports. The “CA” stands for “Compact” and “Audio respectively.” If you compare the model numbers of Linksys’ older and new wireless-G camera you’ll notice that the letter “A” is the only difference. As I explained already this “A” stand for Audio and happens to be one of the new features added. Besides the addition of live audio recording, the newer model has a higher video resolution of 640×480 (previously only 320×240) and enhanced low-light performance due to a higher sensitivity of 3.0V/Lux-sec (compared 1.0V/Lux-sec). On top of that the new WVC54GCA now supports both MPEG-4 and MJEPG video compression standards whereas the WVC54GC only supported MPEG-4. Externally, the WVC54GCA eschews the Linksys tradition by dropping the familiar “Linksys Blue” of the previous WVC54GCA and going for a much nicer looking all-black look, which we’ll cover in the design section.

Worth noting is that these two cameras are not part of Linksys’ Pan/Tilt/Zoom(PTZ) cameras, unlike their more advanced WVC200 model which does have these function, it kind of reminds me of the Logitech Orbit MP webcams that we’ve reviewed right here. Another function not seen on the WVC54-series is the WVC200’s small LCD display at the front which shows the unit’s IP address. The WVC200 sports the traditional “Linksys Blue” indicating that it’s part of the company’s previous design generation , making a lot less stylish looking, when compared Linksys’ newer products, including the WVC54GCA. But in the end it all comes down to the features and fact is however that the WVC200 is more advanced due to the ability to do panning /tilting and the fact that it includes an IR filter cut which allow you to see the images in low or no light environments when an IR lamp is used, but in the end however I feel that the newer WVC54GCA is a better deal despite the lack of these features. The reason is obvious, the WVC200 is currently going for twice as much as the WVC54GCA’s current $100 asking price and you don’t really lose that much on the features side. If you still need panning/zooming than be prepared to pay well into the $200+ range. The WVC200 advertises the “zoom function, however this not an issue as both of them only have digital zoom as opposed to the optical variant. By definition digital zooming cannot be cannot be categorized as zooming. Digital zoom basically enlarges a portion of the image, making it look like the camera has zoomed in. In other words, the camera crops a portion of the image and then enlarges it back to size. It is for this reason that image quality is lost. It is for this reason digital zoom is pretty much useless better left to “Off.” Considering all of this the WVC54GCA is a pretty good deal despite the lack of panning and tilting and especially that it cost in the range of a high quality webcam. It’s also the better value when you compare it to the more expensive WVC200. This doesn’t mean that Linksys should stand still, if they manage to add Pan/Tilting with Optical zooming (atleast 3X, preferably 5 to 10X) at a price point below the $175 range would be killer. Also, where is the Wireless-N support? With Linksys pushing the standard with all of their latest products, why doesn’t the WVC54GCA get this feature?

The WVC54GCA may look like an oversized webcam, but the similarities are just skin deep. Traditional webcams require a PC and software to connect to the internet to stream video. The beauty behind the WVC54GCA comes from the fact that it’s a self-contained unit in the sense that it’s its own web server, so that it can connect directly to a network, either over Wireless-G (802.11g) networking, or over 10/100 Ethernet cable and stream video. Traditional webcams also require a USB connection not only to transfer the video/sound being captured but also to power the unit. The “self-contained” aspect of the WVC54GCA can be seen from the fact that it doesn’t need any other device like a PC to power it, as it gets its own power via the included adapter. This basically comes down to a camera that can be run over your wired or wireless network without needing a PC. Worth noting however is that because the system’s settings are accessed via an internet browser, you will need an external device with a browser to change these settings, whether it’s on PC, Notebook or even mobile products like the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet which I’ve tried it on. First time setup will also require a PC, but once up and running no PC is needed.

Setup

Setting the WVC54GCA up is far from Plug n’ Play, but cannot be categorized as difficult neither. It’s safe to say that if you were able to setup your router with WPA protection and have successfully connected devices to it, than getting the Wireless-G camera up and run should go pretty smoothly. The fact that you should know your WEP or WPA key and need to be able to select your Network by identifying its unique SSID from others during the setup, some user will not know this information or know how to access it and for these reasons they wouldn’t be able to setup the camera. If they do have this information, software installation should be a breeze. Admittedly, the fact that many users don’t know their SSID, WPA or WEP (or how to get it) is not the fault of the software or setup and props have to be given to Linksys for a very easy-to-understand wizard-like setup. Every single aspect is divided into basic steps with very useful images indicating the action to be taken. Linksys should consider informing users before starting the install process to have the SSID and WPA/WEP key handy. Even better is if they could provide some step that would help the average Joe or Jane to get access to this information. I was expecting to be ready in less than 10 minutes, but carefully following the directions, the entire process took about 20 minutes. The install CD is needed for two reason: to setup the camera and securely connect it either wired or wirelessly to your router and to install the optional camera utility. The reason why the Camera Utility is optional is because there is no additional software needed to actually view video streamed from the camera or change the settings, as the Wireless-G camera fully supports a browser-based interface to access these features. The concept is similar to current routers: Linksys routers for example don’t require any additional software to run and settings can be tweaked just by entering http://192.168.1.1/ in the URL space in your web browser. However if you need to do recordings of the streamed video and if you plan on connecting and simultaneously view several of these camera’s in one windows, than it is recommended to install the Camera Utility.

In Step 1, setup starts by connecting the included network cable to your network router or switch and connecting the other end of the network cable to the Camera’s Ethernet port. The software instructs you to Plug the included power adapter into the Camera’s Power port and plug the other end into an electrical outlet. Plugging it in fires up the camera and front panel and it’s front panel LED should be lit.

Step 2, called the “configuring step,” is where the Setup Wizard starts searching for your device and displays a list of available cameras (in case you have several of them). Here is where you select the appropriate camera and in the next step you are asked to give it a name. The best tip here is to just keep the other cameras turned off to avoid confusion. In case you do plan to have several of these cameras, it also helps to give each camera a unique name like: Camera 1 or Backyard Camera. The next step is choosing whether you want to automatically obtain an IP Address which assigns an IP address to the Camera using DHCP or you can “Set IP address configuration manually” which will allow you to assign a static IP address to the Camera. If you do select this option you’ll need to fill in the IP Address you want, Subnet Mask, and Gateway fields. Linksys recommends leaving the IP to automatically obtain an IP Address which is fine and easy for most users. However choosing a manual IP is more convenient as you can easily bookmark the address in your browser and quickly access it at any moment.

After this you’ll need to change the password to the camera. This password is only used to enter the camera’s Advanced Configuration. An access to the actual video is open to all who are connected to the network and know the cameras IP address. The last part of step 2 is selecting the network you want the camera to connect to.

In Step 3 you’ll have enter the selected network’s WPA or WEP key and review the new settings as compared to the old settings and you’re basically done!

In Step 4 it’s just a matter of disconnecting the camera from the power outlet and router and finally reconnecting the power supply to power the camera. At this point front LED light will start to flash indicating that the unit is connecting to your wireless network after which it will just stay lit unless you’ve set the LED light to “Off” in the camera settings. You can unplug the camera at any time and plugging it in it will remember your network settings and automatically connect.

The Camera Utility is a small and separate application that will install in seconds.

Software

The WVC54GCA’s arsenal of software consists out of two utilities: its own built-in Web-based utility, accessed from just about any browser and the optional Camera Utility. The Web-based tool is used to view live streaming video or to change the camera’s various settings .The best part about this is that you don’t need to install any software as the camera acts like a web server where settings can be changed or live video can be viewed from your standard browser. Just like the web-based app, the optional Camera Utility also allows basic operation like viewing streamed video, but it goes a few steps further by allowing you to record this video or take a “snap shot” of streamed video in the form of image files . As for the recording feature, the Camera Utility even allows you to make scheduled recordings, which should come in handy when it comes to saving hard drive space: instead of recording all night, you can just set it to record for a preset amount of time. Another plus comes from the fact that you can view several video streams in one window. This again handy in the case you have several of these cameras connected.

Software: Web-based Utility

Let’s start with the Web-based Utility. This is probably one of the biggest reasons to get the WVC54GCA.

Considering the fact that all of its settings can be conveniently accessed from your browser and that it even allows multiple users to view the streaming video, makes it score big on the convenience factor. On top of that, this makes it an ideal choice for mobile devices which logically won’t always be able to install a Windows-based utility. Due to the accessibility of the software via most browser, it opens up many possibilities for not only PC’s and Notebooks, but also other mobile devices. To give you an example I was able to access the settings and even view my camera’s streaming video on the Nokia N800, a portable internet device. If Linksys had limited the camera by only using some proprietary utility for viewing the streaming the video or even changing the settings would, this would have limited the use to only Windows PC users. This Web-based tool is accessed by entering http://192.168.1.1XX/ in your standard browser. This address depends on whether you’ve set the camera to automatically obtain an IP Address which assigns an IP address to the Camera using DHCP or whether you’ve set to use a specified IP address. The first option can be inconvenient at times as your router will re-assign a different IP address to a device such as your Notebook or even your WVC54GCA camera in the case that you turn it off and later on decide to reconnect it to the network. This means that if you decide to bookmark the Web utility page, each and every time you turn the camera off and then On again, chances are it will be given a different IP address. As result the bookmark won’t work. The best option here is to just use a manual IP address or DHCP preservation in your router’s setting. Doing this the Web-based utility is just a bookmark away. Linksys should consider adding a utility to the browser that can automatically find the camera’s current IP address and access it instead of leaving the user to wonder what IP the camera is using in the case that the automatic IP is used.

The Web-based utility has an interface similar to Linksys’ own Router access pages, but seems a lot more user friendly. The different options are all placed into clearly marked sections and descriptions and everything seems well laid out. Entering the Utility you are greeted with two options: View Video or Advanced configuration. Alternatively you can navigate through the different options using the tabs on top: Home, View Video, Setup (Same as Advanced Configuration), Linksys Web (Takes you to the Linksys website), Help (Takes you to Linksys Online Support) and Exit.

View Video

The “View Video” section can be accessed by either this button on the home page or the “View Video” Tab. This section provides basic viewing of the live streaming for up to a maximum of 4 people simultaneously. Here you can set the video resolution from 640×480, 320×240 and 160×120. There’s also pretty useless Zoom function due to the fact that it’s just digital zoom and as a result there’s a dramatic drop in image quality when using either the 2X or 4X digital zoom. Lastly there’s also the option to adjust volume or set the video to either MPEG4 or MJPEG. The interface for viewing the video seem very easy to use, but considering that there’s an image capture button, why not add the video recording option to the Web utility?

It also might be a lot better if Linksys could put the image settings, (settings which I noticed that I change a lot), under the viewing section in some sort of expanding or drop down menu. These option are placed Setup (Advanced Configuration) area and it would a lot better if they are placed into the View Video section where the user could easily and immediately see how the changes affect the image quality. These are small complaints that in my opinion could be easily fixed with a firmware upgrade.

Last but least you can adjust the volume and even mute it.

Setup (Advanced Configuration)

The Setup menu (also called Advanced configuration) is where you’ll find most of the camera’s option. Strangely enough they decided to give this very same menu two different names in two different places: Setup (in the upper tabs) and Advanced Configuration (On the Home screen) which might only lead to confusion. Linksys should quickly fix this with a firmware update and just call it “Setup.”

The Setup menu consists of 6 option menus with their appropriate options: Basic, Image, Administration, Users, Options, Motion Detection and Status.

Setup (Advanced Configuration): Basic

Despite the “Basic” name of this menu, it offers quite a few options. Here you can change everything from Device settings, Network Settings to Wireless Settings. In the Device settings you can change things like the camera name, description, LED operation, current date/time and time zone. An interesting feature worth mentioning is the ability to remotely toggle the blue LED light on the camera either to On or OFF. At first I found it quite annoying that the camera had such a bright LED, to others it might be a plus, but I think everyone should be happy that you can turn it Off whenever you want. A very small but nice touch. The Network settings allows you to choose whether you’d like to automatically obtain an address (DHCP) or a fixed IP. In the last case you set things like the IP Address, Subnet Mask, Gateway, Primary DNS and Secondary DNS. The Wireless settings has everything to do with the network being used with things like network’s SSID (network name), network type (either Ad-hoc or Infrastructure) and Channel Number (If the Camera is set to Ad-hoc mode.) There’s also a Security area where you can set the Security Mode (WPA/WPA2 Personal, WEP or disabled) In the case of WEP encryption you can set the TX key, the WEP encryption, Passphrase, manually or automatically generate key values (1-4) from the passphrase and authentication type.

When it comes to network settings this clearly shows that you can set your camera to the exact settings of your network. Most of these settings however can be left untouched as the initial setup will automatically configure everything.

Setup (Advanced Configuration): Image

As the name indicates these are the settings that will directly affect how the streamed video and captured images will look like. The “View Video” section offers the most basic of video and image related settings and the “Image” category is exactly an extension to that and thus offers many more options. In the “Image” category Linksys has decided to create separate settings for MPEG-4 and MJPEG and does not offer global settings for both formats. This approach has probably been chosen due to technical differences between the two , but on the other side it is a welcome one that allows you to keep separate settings for the two formats. In both case you can choose a resolution between 640×480, 320×240 and 160×120 and set the Frames Per Second (FPS) anywhere from 1 to 30. Both formats also have the Fixed Quality settings for the video, where you can set the video quality anywhere from Very Low, Low, Normal, High and Very High. Interestingly, only the MPEG-4 offers the “Constant bitrate option” while with MJPEG you’re pretty much stuck with the predefined Fixed Quality settings. Worth noting however, is that despite the slightly fewer option with MJPEG, it offers slightly better video quality when compared to MPEG-4. MPEG-4 on the other hand offers better compression and should be best used when doing recordings, allowing you to get video quality close to MJPEG at smaller file sizes.

The camera software also has the ability to adjust the sharpness and brightness in steps of -1 or +1. I played a bit with these settings and these seem to dramatically improve the image quality. I’ve read other reviews stating that the camera’s video quality was poor, but based on the images provided it seem that many didn’t bother to play a bit with these settings. When I first got the WVC54GCA I also thought the image wasn’t that good, but adjusting the settings according to the light conditions, I was able to get excellent video quality out of camera during the day and good video quality in low light. Of course we aren’t talking video camera quality here, but for security purposes it does a pretty good job, even better still considering the price. Other options include White Balance which can be set to Auto, Indoor (Incandescent) , Fluorescent (white light), Fluorescent (yellow light), Outdoor, Black &White and an option to “Increase Low Light sensitivity.” Here you’ll also find other options to enable the Microphone, time stamp and Text display. This last option will let you display text, up 20 characters long on the video.

Those of you with mobile phone will be happy to know that Linksys has included the very forward-looking option of optimizing the video streaming for mobile devices. I know quite a few devices like the Nokia N800 and N810 have the full browser experience and should do fine with the standard PC video. But I was positively surprised to find this option for devices with less-than-capable browsers (and processors). This options locks your video at 160×120 giving you the option of adjusting the Bit rate and frames per second. There’s even a handy access code to limit access to the streamed video.

With a plethora of image related and enhancement options, the camera should be able to get a fine image in most light conditions and users should be able to customize the image to their exact liking; again it pays here to play around with the image settings as the default settings don’t do justice to what the camera is really capable of. But once correctly adjusted, the WVC54GCA is capable of good image quality both in day-time and low-light conditions.

Setup (Advanced Configuration): Administration

I’ll keep it short when it comes to the administration menu: everything related to camera management is grouped into this category. Here you’ll find things like the Reset button. Despite having a reset button on the camera itself, it sure is handy having on in the software to remotely do this, to restore things to factory default. Here’s where you can upgrade the camera firmware which is another plus: bugs are fixed and features added along the way with simple firmware upgrade. Lastly you can also manage the access code for the camera settings.

Setup (Advanced Configuration): Users

The user panel allows the camera administrator (s) to designate access rights to view the camera’s streaming video.

Setup (Advanced Configuration): Options

The Options screen allows you to set up and configure the DDNS Service, UPnP configuration, and

Alternate Port settings. DDNS (Dynamic Domain Name System) lets you assign a fixed host and domain name to a dynamic Internet IP address. It was nice that Linksys includes a 1-year TZO Dynamic DNS service for free, allowing you to access your camera’s streaming video over the net when you are not using your home network, for example at a hotel in a foreign country or during your night out. The TZO DDNS service allows you to customize the front part of the Domain Name and you can choose among their predefined names. The domain name could for example be gadgetnutz.Linksys-cam.com. A standard TZO account costs $19.95 per year. Accessing the camera from remote locations outside of your network is a pretty valuable feature and the $19.95 price isn’t bad at all.

Setup (Advanced Configuration): Motion detection

Probably one of the coolest features of the camera is it’s motion detection feature. Instead of just alerting or logging this information you can set it to send you recorded video or image(s) via email or FTP. I was even more surprised when I noticed that you could set the Sensitivity Area: either the entire screen or specific area. This could be handy if for example you’re keeping an eye on your baby and her bed is located on the lower right side of the video. This way you can set the motion detection to trigger if only something moves in this part of the video, impressive! This feature is just like the many settings of camera, highly customizable, allowing you to set the camera to behave to your exact likings. For example you can set the interval at which the next trigger should happen once the motion detection has been activated or even when (day) and at what times you want the motion detection to be active.

Setup (Advanced Configuration): Status

Status screen allows you to view the Camera’s status information and log.

Software: Camera Utility

The Camera Utility can be considered the more advanced add-on to the Web-based utility as it isn’t really needed to perform the most basic functions of the camera like changing settings or viewing video. In my opinion it’s both a curse and a blessing at the same in the sense that it offers an impressive amount of functionality like viewing streamed video, allowing you to record your video or take snap shots of streamed content in the form of image files, scheduled recordings and even view several video streams in one window. On the other hand the Camera Utility software looks like it was an afterthought with cryptic buttons and icons, with a layout that could have been done better. The application also seemed to have a few issues with Windows Vista Home Premium installed on my test machine, as I did have a few issues in getting the application to start. A quick reinstall did the job, but by the slow start-up on a pretty up-to-date Intel Core 2 Duo laptop with 2GB of RAM I get the impression that this app isn’t really a native Vista application. It’s not like Linksys is incapable of making good programs, just take a look at their newest Linksys Easy Link Advisor 3 (LELA 3) which is just an example of software perfection. The Camera Utility is the weakest link in the WVC54GCA’s rather strong armor and I think Linksys has just hasn’t gotten into updating it yet and was probably ported from their previous generation of cameras. They should update the software ASAP as I don’t think that in its current state it does justice to the WVC54GCA. Personally I feel that it could go into two direction: either becoming part of the Web-based utility and in the process making the WVC54GCA a full web-based experience or taking the LELA 3 look and feel and applying that to create a completely new Camera Utility that also better integrates with LELA.

Opening the Utility opens the Monitor Window that contains the following sections:

1: The Camera Status is a small section that displays the status of up to 9 cameras, indicating whether camera is being viewed, recorded and if motion detection is enabled or disabled.

2: The Motion Detection Events sits just below the Camera Status and shows the most recent motion detection events.

Both of these two sections are pretty handy to have, but again they used pretty small and cryptic icons that defeat the purpose of quickly informing the user of what is going on. Larger icons and more user-friendly symbols are what I have in mind.

3: Hard Disk Quota shows the currently available hard drive space and the amount of hard disk that is allocated for video recording.

4: Taking up most of the available space on the Monitor Window is the viewing area. You can have four different layouts, with video windows for one, four, six, or nine cameras at once. This is a pretty handy features, especially in the case you have several of these camera.

5: There are also various video controls buttons that allow you to do things like view, record, take snapshots, zoom, Flip (flip the current video display top-to-bottom), Mirror (reverse the current video display left-to-right), enable or disable the sound and lastly raise the volume.

There’s also a specially created Playback section that allows you to playback the recorded video. The nice thing about it is that it allows you to set what videos you’d like to playback based on specific criteria like for example a video recorded during the night of January the 8th on camera 6. It even allows you to controls playback speed. While the playback app works well, I think Linksys should leave the playback to any standard Media Player installed on most PC’s like Windows Media Player, Real or Quicktime and make this app more of a video managing app that shows all video in one window, organized by date and time. On top of that they should add some search feature similar to the one they currently have now.

In the end I feel that the Camera Utility is indeed the weakest link in the WVC54GCA’s armor as it doesn’t meet the criteria of modern software. The UI should be more logically placed with larger and user-friendly symbols, basically it should look and feel like Linksys’ LELA 3 software. Another interesting direction they could take this is by integrating the motion detection, recording and multiple camera view into the web-based utility given Linksys cameras a unique edge by having a completely Plug ‘n Play solution that uses the standard browser. I do believe that this is something that they can easily do, as it appears that they already have the key ingredients of making pretty impressive software.

Design

If you look at the product shots of the WVC54GCA you might be inclined to think that the unit is actually smaller than what it really is. Personally, I estimated that the camera module would be as big as your average webcam, or maybe slightly larger in size, when in fact the unit is a whole lot bigger. To give you an idea of the unit’s size, when placed flat on your standard DVD disc the (top) camera module part only leaves just a small rim around it, making it just a bit smaller in height and width when compared to your standard DVD-disc. The larger size when compared to your average webcam is understandable as a webcam doesn’t have to house a Wireless-G networking antennas, 10/100 Ethernet cable, it’s own web server and power supply unit as your typical webcam leaves all of these for the PC itself. For a self contained unit I think it’s quite compact and Linksys has even managed to do away with the WVC200’s unsightly external antennas. Doing away with this antenna also helps with the placement of the camera as having such an antenna might impede you of placing the camera in small spaces or corners and makes for a cleaner looking design. Even better still is the fact that the built-in antenna doesn’t seem to affect the range or performance of the camera as placing it about 50 meters from the router it happily streamed 640×480, 30 FPS video at 1.2Mbps. I’m even sure that it could be placed even farther from router adding to the places where the camera could be placed. Another observation worth noting is that on the product shots, just below the camera lens there appears to be a glossy black square area where the Linksys/Cisco logo is located that also appears to be a bit darker than the rest of the body. In reality this area is the same matte black as the rest of the body, which I think is a good thing. Less glossy areas means less to get scratched.

As I stated earlier, as opposed to the earlier WVC54GC, the newer WVC54GCA has dropped the familiar “Linksys Blue” color that they used in their earlier line of products for a much nicer looking black and silver design theme that now appear to be used throughout their entire range of products, including the WRT310N Wireless-N that we’ll review pretty soon. The black looks a lot more elegant and seems like a wise decision to use it this theme on all their products, creating some sort of design DNA that can be recognized throughout their product line. The unit itself consists out of three parts: the camera, removable base and removable power supply unit. The camera unit itself is quiet compact and has this basic circular shape to it, except for the left and right sides where it’s flattened and interrupts the almost completely circular shape. On these flattened sides they designed small ventilation openings that appear to run along the sides of the entire camera. But closer inspection reveals that actual opening are limited to the flattened side of the camera, with the rest not being functional and just adds an interesting design element. The camera itself doesn’t appear to neat much ventilation as the unit has been left running for days without ever feeling hot. Having larger opening would have also dramatically increased the chance for dust to collect inside the unit.

When looking at the camera’s front panel first thing you’ll notice is a metallic rim surrounding the protective clear cover in front of the actual lens. The lens itself appears to be deeply recessed, which in my opinion is a good design decision just in case the camera accidentally falls or if something manages to breaks this protective cover, the actual lens element would a better chance of staying intact. The metallic edge surrounding the lens cover might look stylish, but draws too much attention to the camera and on top of that it can easily get scratched so choosing a full black matte rim would have been better. But this is minor annoyance. On the left side of the lens we can find that there’s a Blue LED that can be turned on or off via the web interface. No surprises here that a Blue LED was chosen, perhaps a throwback to Linksys’ familiar blue color. The LED light is extremely bright, visible from a long distance and should easily indicate others that the camera is on and streaming video. Luckily this LED light can be turned to Off in the case that you don’t want to draw attention to the unit. On the right side of the lens there’s a tiny opening for the microphone. Linksys should consider adding two of these next time (one on each side) for stereo audio recording. I was surprised though how sensitive this little microphone was: it was able to pickup sounds from fairly large distances that I would have never thought it would pick up.

On the back we can find the first hole where the stand can be screwed on to the camera for wall-mounting. Next to that we can also find the power and Ethernet ports. On the bottom of the camera we can find the second hole which allows the camera stand to be screwed on vertically, which in turn allows the camera itself to be placed on any flat surface. Lastly, on the bottom we can also find the reset button.

The stand is the second part of the unit and together with the two mounting holes on the camera itself and wall-mount slots on the stand make for a very flexible camera when it comes to placement. The flexibility is one of the things I liked the most about this camera: in literally seconds the stand can be easily unscrewed (without any tools) from one position to the other and with a little bit thought put into it you can easily find many ways to positions the camera and literally thousands of possible places where the camera can be mounted or placed on. It also helps that the camera is fairly compact and without any protrusions (like antennas.)

And lastly the WVC54GCA has its own non-fixed power supply unit. This is important as many manufacturers tend to have built-in or fixed units and in the case that something does go wrong with the power supply there’s no way of getting a replacement of just the defective part and instead you’ll have to replace the unit. Linksys should however consider building a unit that can run on either built-in batteries or a power supply unit. There might be cases where you would like to record something but getting a wall outlet would be difficult.

Daily Usage

Plugging the camera in automatically turns it on and it immediately starts to flash its blue LED light, indicating that it’s connecting to the access point. The entire process of connecting happens pretty fast, which I timed around 7 seconds. Once it does connect it will either turn the LED light ON or OFF, depending on how you set it. This means that WVC54GCA has just two power states: ON or OFF. Seeing that most people will leave it plugged in, it would have been nice and environmentally friendly for it to enter some kind of lower-power mode where starting the Web-based utility or Camera utility would send a trigger to push it into full ON mode. This is something that Linksys should consider working on in future models. The fact that the unit is completely self-contained meant that I could place it just about anywhere I had a wall-outlet and the fact that I could wirelessly control it’s settings made for a very impressive and convenient experience. It got even more impressive when I was able to keep an eye on things and change camera settings while doing some gardening using the browser of my Nokia N800 internet device, a device no bigger than two CD’s put next to each other.

The stand might not look like much, but when I first got the camera I took it along as I tried to look for as many way to mount and place it and let’s just say I was impressed. It’s also fun to try to bring family members in to try to use a product being reviewed. I had set the camera to overlook the entrance of our home and literally within days, everyone at was asking for the URL address to access the streaming video. It almost became a habit for everyone at home to regularly to check with the camera to see what was going outside. Some of the even tried the recording function by pointing the camera to entrance of the house and recording who had stopped by when we went for a night out.

The Web-based utility is very easy to use and I found myself using it on a regular basis, but due to the unfriendly nature of the camera utility I used it only when it was really necessary. The fact that the Web-based utility could be used from a supporting browser meant that I could use it on a lot more devices.

Conclusion

The most appealing aspect of the WVC54GCA is the price: considering the current $100 street price, this makes for a pretty attractive package and you do get a lot of camera for the money, coming close in features to $200+ cameras. With such a low price there will obviously some trade-offs like the lack of stereo recordings or its biggest omission: the lack of optical zoom which would have been really handy. The digital zoom included with the camera is pretty much useless. Linksys should make it a number one priority of adding optical zoom in the next version of the WVC54GCA. Many reviews have been complaining about the video quality, which indeed didn’t look so good right out of the box, but here it pays to tweak the camera’s image settings as I was able to get very nice results when there’s plenty of light and even in low-light conditions. We are not talking about digital video camera quality, but for the purpose of home monitoring it should be more than adequate. Other impressive features of the camera include the flexible mounting stand that allows for many mounting options, even is the tool-less design. But the feature that impressed me the most is the web-based utility, allowing you to perform the most basic task right from the browser.

Compared to its predecessor the WVC54GC, it has improved dramatically by adding audio recording, higher resolution 640×480 video (previously only 320×240) and enhanced low-light performance due to a higher sensitivity of 3.0V/Lux-sec (compared 1.0V/Lux-sec). On top of that the new WVC54GCA now supports both MPEG-4 and MJEPG video compression standards whereas the WVC54GC only supported MPEG-4. By looking at the these upgrades, this should entice current WVC54GC user into getting the newer model. Compared to a webcam, the WVC54GCA is completely self-contained unit, adding to the amount of places where you could place such a camera.

Externally, the WVC54GCA eschews the Linksys tradition by dropping the familiar “Linksys Blue” of the previous WVC54GCA and going for a much nicer looking all-black look. Again worth mentioning again is the pretty simple but handy stand that makes for a very flexible camera when it comes to placement and mounting. Other things I liked is the fact that you can turn the LED light of and the very sensitive microphone that was able to pickup sounds that I never thought it would.

On a more negative note I have to say that the Camera utility is the WVC54GCA’s weakest point .It almost seems like it was an afterthought with cryptic buttons and icons, with a layout that could have been done better. The application also seemed to have a few issues with Windows Vista Home Premium installed on my test machine, as I did have a few issues in getting the application to start. A quick reinstall did the job, but by the slow start-up on a pretty up-to-date Intel Core 2 Duo laptop with 2GB of RAM I get the impression that this app isn’t really a native Vista application. I think Linksys just hasn’t gotten into updating it yet and was probably ported from their previous generation of cameras. They should update the software ASAP as I don’t think that in its current state it does justice to the WVC54GCA. Personally I feel that it could go into two direction: either becoming part of the Web-based utility and in the process making the WVC54GCA a full web-based experience or taking the LELA 3 look and feel and applying that to create a completely new Camera Utility that also better integrates with LELA.

But in the end the low price, good video quality, flexible mounting options and forward-looking web-based utility makes it a good candidate as home monitoring camera for the average consumer. For this reason it gets a 7.9 out of 10.

Pros

Self-powered, no PC needed once setup
Flexible mounting options
Competively priced
Video and settings can be conviently accessed from any web browser.
Mobile device friendly
Excellent range and performance
Feature packed and compact
Good Video in day-light/Reasonable quality in low-light
Highly customizable settings
Well laid out Web-based interface
Firmware Upgradable
Free 1-year TZO DDNS service
Ability to access camera’s streaming from outside your network

Cons

No stereo recording
No optical zoom
No Wireless-N support
Camera Utility has a few problems with Vista.
Camera Utility software looks like it was an afterthought with cryptic buttons and icons

Suggestions

Hybrid Power option: Battery + Power supply
Completely install-free, web-based viewing, settings and recording.

Written by Devin