FLIR FX Tested

By Derek Ward, Published Apr 08, 2015, 12:00am EDT

FLIR is going after the home / consumer surveillance market with their FLIR FX. A few of the notable competitive features offered:

  • Video analytics for search (RapidRecap)
  • Built-in Battery
  • Built-In Storage
  • Outdoor housing

Dropcam, now a Google/Nest division, is certainly the big name now in this market. IPVM has also tested Samsung, Simplicam and D-Link's home offering.

How does FLIR FX compare?

We tested Dropcam and FLIR FX head to head to better understand the tradeoffs. Below is a preview from the two side by side:

 

Our report answers:

  • How well does the included SD card storage work?
  • How effective is FLIR's video analytics?
  • Who has better image quality?
  • For the features provided, how does pricing / value compare?
  • Though FLIR FX has a lot more features (like the built-in battery, outdoor housing, SD card support), FLIR FX's image quality and usability are moderately worse. On the usability side, the difficulty in searching through recorded video, the need to request Rapid Recaps, and the lack of a web client) are key issues that may be improved via software in the future.

    Overall, the FLIR FX is competitive with some clear future advantages but with notable limitations.

    FLIR FX Vs. Dropcam

    Here is how the FLIR FX stacks up against key competitor Dropcam on major usability factors:

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    • Camera setup: The FLIR FX is set up using a smartphone or tablet (iOS or Android) app, scanning a QR code on the camera to initiate connection. Dropcam requires users to connect the camera to a computer via USB, which initiates setup automatically.
    • Image quality: Dropcam image quality was moderately better than the FLIR FX, especially at night, due to the FX's underpowered IR illuminator.
    • Client access: The FLIR FX may be accessed only via smartphone or tablet apps, with no browser based interface, unlike Dropcam. FLIR states they are working on adding this, but no release date is given, and they believe the majority of users access these cameras via mobile device.
    • Live View: Viewing live video is simple with noticeable but similar latency to the Dropcam Pro, which was ~3-5 seconds in our testing.
    • Recorded video: The FLIR FX records motion clips to its internal SD card. If a user has a cloud account, recordings are then uploaded to the cloud and processed for viewing and Rapid Recap. If the user opts out, they may still access SD card recordings directly, via the cloud or direct wi-fi access. No continuous recording is available, only motion or manual event recording. 
    • Searching recordings: The FLIR FX lacks a timeline like Dropcam, instead listing out motion and manual recording events for review, with no way to search for a specific time. However, FLIR Cloud subscriptions (free and paid) allow users to summarize video in a Rapid Recap (Briefcam Video Synopsis), though users need to request 'recaps', wait for them to be processed and then can see the results. Given that process, it is unclear how much time savings this will deliver versus using the Dropcam timeline.
    • Accessory selections: FLIR offers an IP66 outdoor model in addition to the typical indoor camera, unlike Dropcam. Additionally, accessory mounts are available to use the FX as a vehicle dash cam or a GoPro-like action camera (mounted to helmets, bikes, etc.). Dropcam is available only in a single indoor model (though some third-party accessories exist).
    • Battery backup: The FX's battery backup allows it to keep recording in case of power outage, or to be temporarily moved to another location without power. When the camera reconnects, recordings are uploaded to the cloud. Dropcam does not offer battery backup, though external batteries may be used.

    Other Key FLIR FX Points

    Other key points from our test include:

    • Portable Hotspot: If wifi is unavailable, the camera supports a portable hotspot, which allows users to access the camera.
    • Weak IR Illumination: We found that the IR illumination spec'd for 33' (10M) was close to accurate but weak. Illumination was more sufficient in smaller spaces ~20' out in houses and small rooms, but may be too short for business settings.
    • Switching Aspect Ratios/Resolutions: Depending on what mount the camera is mounted to, the aspect ratio and resolution will change. For example, with the indoor mount, the camera uses a dewarped 110° FOV as opposed to the 160° FOV off the mount.
    • Action Mode: When the camera is not attached to a mount, the camera switches to "Action Mode", which disables automatic recordings and Rapid Recap and records at 1080p resolution.

    Pricing and Cloud Plans

    The FLIR FX indoor model retails at $199 USD (same as Dropcam Pro), and the outdoor model for $249. Cameras are available for pre-order now via online retailers such as Amazon, Home Depot [link no longer available], Best Buy [link no longer available], and more with shipping planned in April. The FX will also be sold in-store at these retailers.

    A free 30-day trial of FLIR cloud plus is included, which users can then opt to one of the following cloud options:

    Setup Process

    Setup is performed simply using a mobile device app, with no option to connect to the camera via PC or Mac. Users scan a QR code on the base of the camera using the FX app, and are walked through setup, a 5-10 minute process. Non-technical users used to smartphones and tablets, downloading apps, etc., should not find this process difficult.


    Rapid Recap

    The FLIR FX has a time-lapse feature called Rapid Recap, essentially BriefCam's Video Synopsis performed in the cloud. Users select a time frame (minimum of 1 hour, up to 12 hours depending on subscription) to be recapped, and the video is queued to be processed. Processing of a recap of several hours took 2-3 minutes in our tests.

    In this video, taken on an Android device, we review the use of Rapid Recap:


    Note that as with other video synopsis programs we've seen, objects may overlap, making review difficult in busy scenes. Additionally, there is no way to adjust the number of objects on screen at once manually, as there is in BriefCam.

    Recordings

    Opening the replay icon (resembling a VCR "play" button) launches the recordings list. Users may directly access motion clips, manual recordings, and Rapid Recaps which have already been processed from here. Note that no timeline view is provided, unlike Dropcam, and specific times may not be searched.

    Mobile App Use

    The FLIR FX app is simple to use, with live video streaming in a few seconds after selecting a camera. Few options are given, with two main buttons triggering manual recording, intercom functions, etc.

    Image Quality

    We tested the FLIR FX against the Dropcam Pro in our conference room scene in full light and dark scenes. Both cameras were shot using 720p resolution, although the FLIR FX camera can manually record video at 1080p resolution, and 4MP snapshots can also be taken. The test FOV can be seen below:

    In full light, with our subject ~15' away from the cameras, PPF is ~31. The FLIR and Dropcam cameras are able to read lines 1-3 on our test chart, but reading text this small is unlikely to be required in the residential applications these cameras are intended for. Note also that the Dropcam's white balance and brightness result in a more vibrant image.

    Given the poor IR illumination of the FLIR FX, our subject and chart are noticeably darker, with the Dropcam able to read lines 1 and 2 of our test chart given its stronger and more even IR illumination.

    The IR illumination patterns for both cameras can be seen below. The FLIR FX has a narrow and weak IR pattern, while the Dropcam Pro illuminated the room more evenly.

    Outdoor IR Performance

    Outdoor IR performance using the outdoor FLIR FX camera model, we can see range improvement with the additional IR illuminators on the camera. However, the additional IR illumination can wash out objects at close range, as seen with the planter located directly under the camera. At ~60', our subject is detectable in our outdoor scene, as demonstrated below.

    Other Modes

    Users that disconnect the FLIR FX from the mount and carry it around similar to a GoPro. Doing so sends the camera into "Action Mode", essentially disabling the Rapid Recap and intercom capabilities. Below is an image of the live view and options of the FLIR FX while it is mounted:

    Below is the live view of the FLIR FX in "Action Mode". Notice how Rapid Recap and Intercom options are no longer available and the FOV has increased from ~110° to a more warped ~160°. However, we can now simply record in the recording selection:

    Manual recordings from the camera are sent to the SD card at 1080p resolution, and snapshots are 4MP. Below is a snapshot from our conference room scenes. The increased resolution is able to discern more of our subject and test chart in both day and night, but gain is also increased, resulting in the artifacts seen in both images.

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