Testing Panasonic's Remote Monitoring Network Camera (BL-C210A)

Author: Benros Emata, Published on Jun 26, 2010

Panasonic is one of the most well known network surveillance camera providers in both the consumer and professional market.  In February 2010, we tested their megapixel/HD camera (WV-NP502). Now, we turn to one of their higher end consumer/residential offerings.

In this report, we examine the test results of the Panasonic BL-C210A network camera. Available for under $200, the camera includes a number of relatively advanced features includes H.264 support, motion and heat sensors, motorized pan/tilt/zoom capabilities. In addition to our common image quality analysis tests, we focus in on these features, examining how well they work and are supported.

This is the second test in our budget camera series. We bought a number of the top selling cameras on Amazon (also including D-Link, Cisco, Trendnet) and will be systematically going through them in the next 2 months.

Recommendations

For the home user whose primary concern is simplicity in setup and installation, the Panasonic BL-C210A may be a challenge because of the lack of a setup wizard and the complexity of manually setting up configurations for remote viewing (if the UPnP port forwarding process failed as in our tests)

This camera could prove beneficial for a small business (less than 8 cameras), assuming moderate technical skills for the setup and remote viewing processes. The camera would suit well in an environmentally controlled indoor location like an office setting or small convenience store. In addition, the pan / tilt feature will provide added flexibility to cover larger areas and for changing camera angles on the fly. The included video monitoring software would be adequate for general tasks of live monitoring, recording, and investigations.

In a larger deployment (over 8 cameras), an organization may need a VMS that provides more than the basic functionality of the included Network Camera Recorder software. If a professional VMS supports the BL-C210A, this camera will make a good low cost deployment for an indoor, environmentally controlled location.

Key Findings

Setup: While the camera comes with a setup CD, no wizard is provided, requiring manual configuration. The more features that a product has available, the level of complexity rises.  Since this camera is marketed as having many features (like multiple sensors), the lack of a setup wizard may make setup cumbersome and difficult for the home user. 

Although the setup CD included a camera finder utility, not all PC's that the utility ran on was able to see the camera on the network. 

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Monitoring Software: This Panasonic kit comes with two video monitoring software options.  On the CD and documentation, the software is called Network Camera Recorder Single Camera Version, and Network Camera Recorder 16 Camera Version. We are not sure why there is a delineation, because it seems that the Single Camera Version does support multiple cameras as well. 

The two versions have different graphical interfaces, but both share similar functionalities of live monitoring, manual recording, recording upon motion, recording upon alarm/sensor, searching recorded video, and exporting video.

One point to note is the bandwidth consumption from using the Single Camera version was less than the 16 camera version.  The single camera version did not stream the audio feed from the microphone, while the 16 camera version streamed the audio automatically, and there was no way to cut that portion of the stream.  So, for example, the single camera version network bandwidth would be 2.5Mps, while the 16 camera version would be at 8Mbps.

An additional point to note - Although the Panasonic camera has an H.264 stream, both versions of its monitoring software does not support that stream; Both versions only support MJPEG and MPEG-4 streams.

Bandwidth: We observed the Panasonic camera's bandwidth consumption at 2.5Mbps during the day, and 3Mbps at night.  The stream settings were 640x480, 30fps, MJPEG Codec (No VMS we attached camera to supported the H.264 stream).

Details of Subjects: Since the camera has a fixed lens, if placed in a large room, the field of view will generally be too wide to get facial details, but human identification is possible.  In addition, the pan and tilt feature will add additional area of coverage and aid in surveying larger rooms. 

Nighttime Performance: Low light performance was observed at 1 lux, which produced an excessive amount of camera noise artifacts; Although, some details could be identified like background objects and slight human features.  At 0.3 lux nothing except direct light sources from houses in background could be seen.

Third Party VMS Support: We were able to associate the BL-210A to the Luxriot DVR software. Support was limited to the MJPEG stream, pan / tilt functionality, changing resolution and encoding quality. We tried to associate the camera to Milestone Enterprise and ExacqVision VMS, but with out success.

For budget VMS systems, we were able to associate the camera with Blue Iris and Argus Surveillance DVR (both were limited to the MJPEG stream).  We were unable to associate to Webcam XP. 

Remote Access & Monitoring: In our tests, the documented process of setting up the camera for remote viewing over the Internet did not work.

The process goes as follows: The user enables the Auto Port Forwarding option on the camera's web menu and then registers with viewnetcam.com (Panasonic's free DDNS service) directly on the interface.  At this point, the web interface uses the UPnP protocol to automatically forward the appropriate network port on your router; Therefore, your viewnetcam web address is enabled to see your live video over the Internet.

While monitoring our (UPnP supported) network router closely, UPnP did not enable any port forwarding at all, which did not allow the viewnetcam address to access the camera over our public IP address.

Product Overview

During the duration of testing the Panasonic BL-C210A, we verified the following key product points:

  • Camera supports H.264, MPEG-4, and MJPEG codecs, but included monitoring software did not support H.264 stream
  • Fixed lens, 1/4" CMOS sensor
  • Maximum resolution of 640x480, 30fps, and is also default settings
  • 9 feet, 10 inch long AC power adaptor
  • Motion, temperature, and microphone sensor integrated to camera; May be complex to setup for average home user
  • No setup wizard
  • Setup CD included a camera finder application; On some PC systems, camera finder could not detect camera on network
  • Supports Panasonic's free DDNS service, Viewnetcam.com; Registration is done through web interface on camera
  • Two versions of monitoring software is included on CD: A version for a single camera, and a 16 camera monitoring version
Price
 
The BL-C210A is available through direct retail channels at an MSRP of $199.95 USD, or online for approximately $170 USD
 

Physical Overview

We examine the physical form factor and accessories of the Panasonic BL-C210A.  

Key points include:

  • The BL-C210A is a wired only network camera model (the wireless model is BL-C230A)
  • The Pan angle is -41 degrees to +41 degrees, the tilt angle is -32 degrees to +10 degrees
  • Camera has sensors that trigger upon motion, sound, and heat
  • Privacy button moves the camera lens inside the camera body to hide live image
  • A network cable (not included in kit) is connected to the camera and the power transfer unit
  • The AC adaptor power cable is 9 feet, 10 inches long

Setup & Configuration

The following screencast examines the setup procedure of the Panasonic BL-C210A. We cover the process upon inserting the included setup CD to accessing the camera's web interface.  In addition, we discuss the advanced configuration options that is available on this camera.

Key points include:

  • Setup CD does not include a setup wizard
  • The camera finder application did not discover the camera on the network in every PC it was executed on
  • Upon accessing the web interface and viewing live video, by default, audio from the integrated microphone will play
  • Camera controls on the left support the camera's pan and tilt functionality
  • Click the Setup tab on the top to access camera settings
  • By default, the camera is set to its H.264 / MJPEG stream and frame rate is at 30fps
  • Bit rate range can be changed from the default range of 512Kbps - 2Mbps
  • Support for the camera's sensors are limited to it's web interface
  • Motion detection sensitivity is set by configuring the threshold bar
  • Sound detection sensitivity is set by configuring its threshold bar
  • Temperature sensor sensitivity settings has no threshold bar, but High to Very Low profiles
  • The Trigger tab activates and manages the available sensors
  • Detected alarms from sensors will appear in the Buffered Image tab
  • In the Buffered Image tab, clicking on the image will play back still frames from the triggered alarm
  • No audio is captured from the sound sensor trigger, only still frames
  • Click the Internet tab to configure remote access settings
  • Auto port forwarding for remote access is done through Universal Plug n' Play (UPnP)
  • Not all network routers support the UPnP protocol
  • Web interface allows user to register camera with Viewnetcam.com; This is Panasonic's free DDNS service
  • In our tests, auto port forwarding (using UPnP) did not work; The Viewnetcam web address did not connect to the camera
  • Remote viewing configurations may need to be done by manually accessing your network router and port forwarding the appropriate port

Image Quality Analysis

We have tested the Panasonic BL-C210A in various environments under daylight, low lux, and wide dynamic range lighting conditions.  In addition, we tested this camera simultaneously with five other home network cameras to compare performance and visual quality.

Key points include:

  • In a daytime indoor scene, the exported clips of the BL-C210A ran smooth at 30fps with a clear and crisp image
  • Low lux indoor scene (1 lux), camera suffered from noise artifacts, but not as muddy or as dark as competitor cameras
  • In a wide dynamic range scene, outdoor light washed out details of subject outside; As subject moved indoors, details could still be distinguished
  • In an outdoor home driveway scene at night (0.3 lux), camera noise was too excessive to see subject 

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