I do a lot of playing around with webcams. Years ago I wrote a long screed about how difficult it was to get a FOSCAM PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) webcam set up in my house for security while we were on a trip. That device was incredibly hard to get working with OS X at the time, and I actually ended up having to use a virtual Windows machine to get it working. I've also tested and in some cases purchased webcams from both IZON and Dropcam, the latter being my current favorite for image quality and ability to be set up from an iOS device. But sometimes you just need a cheap webcam, and that's where the D-Link DCS-930L (US$35 through Amazon) comes in.
So, what was I connecting to my "Internet of Things" this time? I have a professional-quality weather station that I use to send updates of weather conditions to Weather Underground every few seconds. The one thing my station was missing? A webcam showing a visual of current weather conditions. All I needed was a camera that would keep an eye on the outdoors.
I started by looking at outdoor webcams, most of which started at $200 and went up from there. Not wanting to spend a lot of money on this somewhat frivolous "need", I started looking at cameras that would be able to just look out a window during the day -- no need for IR lights or pan-tilt-zoom. And that's what pointed me to the D-Link DCS-930L.
Before ordering the webcam, my first step was to make sure that it was going to be OS X or iOS compatible for setup. Although there were a number of Amazon complaints from Mac users griping about how hard it was to set up, I noticed that there is a Mac setup app called the Setup Wizard that is available for download from D-Link's site.
For "turn it on and it works" ease of use, you'll need to get an IZON or Dropcam. But this D-Link webcam didn't take much time at all to get working. I just needed to plug the webcam into an Ethernet hub, plug my MacBook Pro into the same hub, let it search for and find the camera, and then pass the Wi-Fi settings to the D-Link webcam. Unplug the Ethernet, and then the camera was moved to its final resting place in a front window of my house.
The image isn't exactly HD, but when I can get 640 x 480 color imagery at 20 frames per second, that works. After all, the idea here is just to have one picture taken every minute anyway.
To get the webcam to send a photo to Weather Underground once a minute, I'm using Evological's EvoCam ($30) software. This app is able to use the incoming network camera feed from the DCS-930L and a variety of other webcams, and it was drop-dead simple to get it configured to FTP an image every 60 seconds to the Weather Underground servers.
I should note that many of D-Link's webcams connect to the company's free "MyDLink Cloud" service for remote viewing; the company also has a number of free iOS apps available to make it possible to view what your camera is seeing. I downloaded the MyDLink Lite app, and it works well for both viewing the camera and updating firmware. No bells and whistles, but sometimes that's just what you need.
While this isn't an "official" TUAW review, it does show just how sometimes the least expensive options provide perfectly workable solutions to a problem. While it might be difficult for some users to set up, anyone with a bit of experience should have a DCS-930L up and running in minutes. The free app is perfectly workable, and the camera works well with other applications like EvoCam.
Rating: 3-1/2 stars out of 4 stars possible