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PC-Based Home Security: Do It Yourself

Axis M1011-W

Unlike D-Link, which tends to cover anything and everything in the world of networking, Axis specializes in network video. The assumption is that this specialization yields higher quality products, but does it also yield higher total value? It’s a given that Axis will cost more than D-Link, but do you get more bang for the security buck? Let’s find out.

The M1011-W is billed as Axis’s “smallest wireless network camera from the market leader.” With dimensions of only 1.1” x 2.3” x 3.7”, the camera measures almost identically against D-Link’s DCS-930L. The striking difference between the two is that Axis is still using 802.11b/g wireless networking. Given my past experience with streaming video over 802.11g, this does not fill me with joy heading into testing. However, Axis seems to compensate for the slower bandwidth with increased buffering. Using the default Motion JPEG mode, images seem to lag behind reality by about one-half to one second. Stepping up to H.264 streaming, that lag jumps to about three seconds. It also helps that, like the 930L, the M1011-W has a top resolution of 640 x 480, so it’s not like you’re trying to stream HDTV.

There are several small ways in which Axis differentiates the M1011-W from its D-Link peer. One of my favorites is the ring of LED light around the fixed focus lens, which glows yellow or green depending on the camera status. It’s a small, classy-looking touch that says, “Hey, there’s a surveillance camera watching you,” and you can disable it in the camera settings. More importantly, the M1011-W supports simultaneous, multiple H.264 streaming, with each stream having its own quality/bandwidth parameters. In general, H.264 is the highest quality stream type you’ll find on today’s network cams. Axis also allows for HTTPS encryption so outsiders can’t hack your video streams.

In terms of image quality, the image below tells us several things about the M1011-W.

This shot was captured in mid-afternoon on an overcast day with a lamp on the floor just out of view for additional illumination. The Axis camera does a much better job than D-Link at bringing out shadowy areas, but there’s a price to be paid in graininess. You can clearly see the compression noise and color blotchiness on that dark red wall, and that’s using an MPEG-4 stream, which is higher quality than MJPEG.

More importantly, you can see that the boy moving through the image has had the top part of his body obscured by blocking artifacts. I saw this happen repeatedly with moving elements within Axis scenes, and it’s the result of 802.11g’s bandwidth limitations. This simply never happened with the D-Link cameras. To be fair, the effect is fleeting, lasting only a second, but if you’re trying to capture a thief in action, a second of footage might be all you get. This noise and artifacting was greatly reduced when using H.264 streams. In fact, the difference between these codecs is so obvious that Axis might consider simply eliminating the MPEG-4 mode in the future, as it did with our next camera, the Axis M1054.

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