December 2005 - The "in" crowd around here is all wired up for internet based cocktail parties. To date the most successful hardware set up has been the Veo web cam. However we are always on the lookout for a new toy. The Sony SNC-M3 caught our attention for several reasons.
First, this gem allows up to ten users to be streaming video and audio at the same time. This will help us to do a multi-site party. With the Veo only allowing one person to stream we've had to make some weird setups. Second, it supports an external speaker so that the remote person can talk to you. Many times I've been watching someone remotely and been unable to get their attention. I've wanted to shout, "Hey, over here!" The Sony promises to solve both these issues. Too bad it doesn't.
I have to say that the Sony SNC-M3 comes with some very neat features in it. The pan function is very fast. It has an embedded FTP client so it can upload photos periodically. It has motion detection and can email a photo when it trips. It can even email you when it gets a new dynamic ip address so you don't lose track of it - and it could post this info to a web site instead! Wow.
However, it has one major flaw. While it does let a remote user speak through the camera, they have to be logged in as the administrator user. This gives them full control of the entire camera configuration. That's a huge security risk. I would prefer to give each user group permission to speak through the camera, much the way the Pan/Tilt permission is granted.
Other little issues are:
- The picture quality is not bad, but far below a Veo. In low light
the Sony picture is really bad. (see examples below)
- The only way to speak to the camera is by running a Sony supplied
application on your PC. I'd prefer to do it with a Java applet to avoid
the installation step. Naturally this application must be configured
with the IP and Port of the Sony camera, however it forgets this each
time you exit the application. In addition, only one person can have
speak control at a time. This too should be handled in the way Pan/Tilt
control is implemented.
- Lastly, while the camera does support DDNS, it only supports it via Sony's own site. I would much prefer to use dyndns.com, but the camera is tied to Sony.
On top of all this I was hoping to escape from the requirement to use IE. Sony could have written a Java based applet so that all browsers could use the camera. Instead I have to get out of Firefox whenever I use the camera, same as the Veo.
Overall this has the potential to be a bang-up camera. Instead it's a a bit of a banged up implementation. Sony was clearly thinking of the remote security monitoring market, not the high tech cocktail crowd.
However, Sony could fix the major problem - a firmware upgrade could allow non-administrators to access the speaker. If you can supply enough light for the camera, then this is the one to buy.
Late one evening in the living room with a few lights on.
Same evening, but with the side light turned off.
The Sony is way too dark.
The Veo low lux camera does a much better job.
Jim Schrempp is a sometimes freelance writer (only Vanity Press will publish his work) living in Saratoga, California. His writings have appeared on numerous pages on his own web site. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else (although Jim wishes more people shared his opinions)