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Panasonic’s range of IP cameras just keeps on growing and the latest to join this burgeoning family delivers a range of useful surveillance features including remote pan, tilt and zoom capabilities. The BB-HCM381 also compares very well on price with the competition, with Sony’s SNC-RZ25P, for example, delivering a similar feature set but costing around £100 more.
It’s not as pretty as Sony’s PTZ camera but is just as well built and at around half the height is a lot more discrete. A recess at the rear provides a standard Fast Ethernet port for network connection and a small I/O connector block alongside allows you to add up to two of your own external sensors. A single socket is also provided for two-way audio operations and the kit includes a splitter cable for connecting an external microphone and speaker to the camera. Pan and tilt functions are good as the lens has a horizontal range of 350 degrees while vertical movement covers 120 degrees which is reduced to 90 degrees when the camera is ceiling mounted. Zoom functions are also up with the best as the camera provides 21x optical and a further 2x digital. There’s also a slot in the base that accepts SD Memory Cards for direct video recording.
Installation is helped along nicely by the bundled Easy Setup software which searches the network and displays the camera ready for initial configuration. Sensibly, the first thing it does is insist that you provide a new username and password to protect access. The home page of the browser interface is very easy to use and we liked the fact that you don’t need to leave the main viewing screen to modify the more basic settings. The controls are laid out neatly down the left side and you can easily switch between quality, motion or standard picture settings and select resolutions of 640 x 480 pixels or 320 x 240. A casualty of the lower price is the lack of support for MPEG-4 compression. With only Motion JPEG in the frame the maximum 30fps is only achievable at the lower resolutions and selecting 640 x 480 will drop this to 12fps which does result in much jerkier feedback.
A keypad to the left of the image is provided for moving the lens and returning it to its home position while a couple of buttons above are used to initiate vertical or horizontal sweeps. However, you can dispense with these simply by pointing and clicking within the viewing area as this will move the lens to wherever the mouse is pointing. Zoom can also be controlled with the mouse wheel or by holding down the right button at the top or bottom of the picture. For picture quality Panasonic beats Sony easily as the image is much sharper and has a far more natural colour balance.
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