8 August 2015

REVIEW: Y-cam Home Monitor HD Pro

Because can you really trust a hedgehog?

We're back reviewing yet another WiFi home security camera from our chums at Y-cam. Their Home Monitor system of wireless cams and apps has popped up a few times before, and we've always been impressed by both the quality of the cameras and the ease of the system. So while the inside of Test Pit Towers has been nicely protected for a while now, what about the garden? Worried that some cheeky thief might try to make off with our overgrown lawn and stagnant pond, we decided to test the water and weatherproof Y-cam Home Monitor HD Pro.

This is the first product we've reviewed from the Home Monitor range that actually looks like a CCTV camera; or rather how you typically expect one to look. The weatherproofing is very evident when you take it out of the box, as instead of the indoors-friendly plastic casing that we've seen in the past, this baby is completely metal. The camera itself is encased in an extremely rugged shell that appears as if it could withstand more than just the weather. Let's say that if a nuke explodes near your house, you'll still be able to watch the mutated squirrels hopping around for some time to come.

Bolted onto the camera is a similarly metallic mount. Unscrew the rear plate of that (the part that can be affixed to your wall) and you'll find both a power input and an ethernet port. One downside of the Home Monitor system (compared to a few other camera ranges we've explored) is that to set up the WiFi connection one must first plug the camera into a router's spare LAN port. To be fair, this process takes about three minutes before the online wizard prompts you to remove the cable and mount your cam, but it's a gripe none the less. Once your new Y-cam Home Monitor HD Pro is added to you Home Monitor account (which is free) you're ready to set it in place.

We wanted to make sure that our rear patio door was constantly covered, so decided to mount the cam in a position overlooking it and the main approach along the back of the house. As the cam needs a constant power supply that means you'll have to get drilling. We drilled through six inches of the patio door frame - which wasn't all that bad - but be warned that depending on where you need it to go, you might have to bore through an exterior wall. Also bear in mind that the supplied power cable is about eight feet long. Fortunately for us that was just enough to plug it in without needing an extender, but always consider the distance from you potential massive hole to your socket. That sounds rude.
But that aside, once through it was a very simple job of affixing the mount back plate to the wall (screws are included), plugging in the fed-through power cable, coiling up the slack wire and ethernet port into the mount's insides, then screwing the camera securely to the plate. At this point you can wiggle the (thankfully nice and stiff) ball joint on the mount to get your camera in the correct position, all the time checking the view on the mobile app.

Before we get to image quality, motion sensing, and cloud storage, we need to mention WiFi. The Y-cam Home Monitor HD Pro comes with a pretty beefy WiFi antenna which screws into the back of the camera - but you first have to be sure that you're not too far from your wireless router. Because the camera is most probably being placed outside, you have to consider how thick your exterior walls are and how much interference they'll cause to the signal. Before drilling any holes we tested the connection strength by running an power extension cord outside and holding the camera roughly where it would mounted, then opened up the app. Once sure that the image quality was good, and that the frame refresh rate was acceptable, we went ahead - make sure you do too, as you might be shocked at just how limiting thick walls can be to WiFi.

Here's ours, all nicely installed. We angled the WiFi antenna downwards,
as it seemed to help with signal strength.
But enough of the boring rubbish - what is the damn thing actually like to use? In a word, good. The Y-cam Home Monitor HD Pro captures footage in 720p HD, which isn't as sharp as the Samsung SmartCam HD's 1080p, but still plenty good enough for clear images. It also features a far-focus lens, meaning it can record clearer images from a greater distance than normal home cameras; perfect for maintaining a watch over a large space like a garden or drive. And yes, of course it features night vision, to record the nocturnal goings-on around your gaff.

Unfortunately the mobile app is quite limited when it comes to altering the settings of the camera - you'll need the Home Monitor website for that. Once on, you can set when you'd like your new camera to record, and what area within its field of view will trigger a new recording. Basically, if anything crosses over the border of your preset 'motion zones', recording begins, and (if you've set it up this way) you'll be sent a notification.

Moth Watch, first night. Nice and clear and 'bright', despite the hour.
The first night we received 247 notifications. No, we weren't be constantly robbed by the most tenacious burglars ever, but rather the camera was recording EVERYTHING that slightly moved at all in our garden; mostly moths. After a brief exchange over Twitter with Y-cam (cheers guys), they suggested turning the sensitivity of the triggers down, which we did. The next night we received just two notifications; the first a really big moth which was apparently attempting to mate with the camera's green LED status light, and the second being a bloody hedgehog. After reviewing the footage we could ascertain that the hog in question probably wasn't trying to break in, but you can't be too careful.

Day time. Argghh! A burglar! Oh, no wait, its a toddler.
Still, hide the valuables!
Watching the captured footage back is a doddle on both the app and the desktop site, with clips arranged by date and time with handy little previews. The website also gives you the option to download the clip as an mp4 file- something which will come in handy if you need to hand it over to the authorities, or if there is something special you want to keep. That is because, with a free account, the Home Monitor servers will store your footage for just seven days before deleting it. We feel this is more than enough, and pretty remarkable considering it is a free service, but should you want more you can pay for a 30 day account. Richie Rich.

Hopefully the screenshots convey the quality of the footage. It is very good - not amazing - but good enough. Faces captured within ten feet or so are clear enough to make an identification, and the motion triggers and notification alerts all worked within seconds. Since installing the Y-cam Home Monitor HD Pro we feel much safer in our home and also a lot more confident about leaving the place empty while away. We'll just have to keep an eye on that hedgehog from now.


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