Foscam Low Cost HD PTZ Tested

By Derek Ward, Published Jan 24, 2014, 12:00am EST

The $68 SD PTZ we tested disappointed, due primarily to poor image quality and high bandwidth consumption.

A member suggested we test a newer HD version that cost $40 more - the Foscam FI9821W, so we bought one from Amazon for $127 to put this to the test.

This model claimed 3 major improvements over the original one we tested:

  • 720p HD instead of SD
  • H.264 instead of MJPEG only
  • ONVIF conformance

So we put the new model to the test against the old one and two fixed HD cameras from Dahua and ACTi.

 

Key Strengths and Weaknesses

Our testing showed the following key strengths:

  • The Foscam 720p FI9821W had significantly better daytime image quality than its SD counterpart, but average compared to low-cost 720p cameras (ACTi D11, Dahua HD2100N).
  • IR illumination range goes beyond specification (8m/~25'), reaching to at least 50'. However, severe overexposure is present in the middle of the image. Exposure is slowly automatically adjusted to compensate for severe IR illumination.
  • Pan/tilt controls perform well, with low latency and smooth horizontal and vertical movement with no bouncing or jittering.
  • The 720p FI9821W had the same default bandwidth consumption (4Mb/s) as its SD counterpart but could easily be set lower as our test results showed at 4Mb/s, the compression was unnecessarily low for most scenes.

However, key weaknesses included:

  • While Foscam claims the FI9821W is ONVIF conformant, integration was problematic and we could not find it validated on ONVIF's official list. For example, in Exacq the camera can be added, but would not stream, and in VideoInsight, the camera will add and stream, but PTZ functionality did not work. We contacted Foscam's tech support, and they stated that they have not tested the cameras within any VMS's, but have tested it with a handful of NAS/NVRs.
  • Aside from resolution, frame rate, bit rate, and keyframe interval, there are no other codec settings available (such as exposure, gain control, etc).
  • The Foscam FI9821W uses CBR only, with a cap of 4Mbps, which could lead to degraded image quality if camera is set up to view a busy or complex scene, such as a street intersection.

Recommendations

While ~$40 USD more than its SD counterpart (Foscam FI8910W), the substantial gain in image quality and possible bandwidth savings are worth it. Users looking for an HD indoor pan/tilt camera can find value in the Foscam FI9821W's offerings, if that users have patience for setup and configuration, and can work with the limited options available on the camera.

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The big barrier, of course that remains, is VMS integration. Without PTZ controls on the VMS, what is the point of having a PTZ connected to a VMS?

Physical Overview

The Foscam FI9821W has the same physical construction as the Foscam FI8910W, so we have included the FI8910W's physical overview for your convenience.

Web Interface Overview

The video below review the key features and functionality of the Foscam FI9821W web interface.

Remote Access

Remote access to the camera is via UPnP (which may or may not work) or manual port forwarding, with no no automatic 'phone home' capability (i.e., Dropcam). As such, users may be frustrated and spend a lot of time unless they have strong technical skills (opening holes in firewalls, port forwarding, etc.). 

IR Performance Comparisons

We tested the FI9821W's IR illumination range at various distances, starting with Foscam's specified range of 8 meters (~25-26'), and tested it against the Dahua HD2100N and the SD Foscam FI9810W to guage IR performance. Illumination at this range was strong, and we can more clearly make out the first line of our eye chart, as well as see individual characters further down on the chart.

Note that since all of these cameras use fixed lenses, they were staggered at different distances from our subject in this test, so some differences in angle are seen in the comparisons below.

With our subject moving further away from the cameras (~50'), the FI9821W's image quality is slightly better than the Dahua HD2100N, with our subject's face more illuminated and distinguishable, and more of the eye chart is visible.

Image Comparisons

We compared the FI9821W to two low cost HD cameras, the ACTi D11 and Dahua HDW2100 (both ~$130 online), to see the tradeoffs in resolution when using a camera this inexpensive. We tested at one range, ~20' with a 22' HFOV, to highlight differences

Full Light

In this scene, the Foscam FI9821W compares just below the Dahua HD2100, and a bit above the ACTi D11. Compared to the ACTi, our subjects face is clearer and more defined. However, when compared to the Dahua, lines 4-5 on our eye chart are more legible, and can resolve finer details than the Foscam. Also, note how the eye chart appears washed out and overexposed (with no exposure settings on the Foscam), while the ACTi and Dahau eye chart's are not overexposed.

Low Light

At this range, the Foscam FI9821W performs the strongest out of the cameras tested. The Foscam FI8910W's SD resolution significantly impacts image quality at this range, and the Dahua has substantial artifacting that diminish details that the Foscam FI9821W was able to capture.

Bandwidth Consumption

The FI9821W is H.264, CBR only, with no options for VBR/MJPEG. Further, there are no CODEC controls other than resolution (720p to QVGA), frame rate (1 FPS through 30 FPS), Keyframe Interval (1 to 100), and Bit Rate (4Mbps to 20Kbps).

We tested the Foscam FI9821W set to 4Mbps, and q levels were ~18 in full light, ~15 in low light, and ~26 when set on a tour. That is much lower than typical camera default q levels of 27-30. As such, one may consider dropping the bitrate to a lower level to save bandwidth.

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