Want to keep an eye on the babysitter, your couch-chewing dog, or the outside of your home while you're away on vacation or at work? Well, you could check out a less expensive Webcam, but most Webcams are designed for video chat (though Creative is moving into surveillance Internet cameras). If you're interested in a security-oriented and full-featured system, WiLife's LukWerks Digital Video Surveillance System (DVSS) is worth a look. DVSS is a power line-connected system that uses your AC wiring for network connectivity and your PC for control of up to six cameras. It worked quite well in our hands-on evaluation, and the bundled Werks software is slick. But at $299.99 for the single-camera starter kit we tested and $229.99 for each additional camera, you're looking at a hefty $1,500 investment for a full, six-camera setup--pricey, though $1,500 is a bargain compared to a professionally installed surveillance system.
It's obvious from the precise bundled documentation and the plethora of stickers attached to components telling you what to do or what not to do that WiLife has spent a lot of effort making the setup for the LukWerks DVSS as simple and bulletproof as possible. There are quite a few components staring back at you from the newly opened box: the camera, two power-outlet networking modules, and a slew of cables and mounting hardware. Once you've figured out which of the similarly and attractively styled components is which, getting the system wired is a pretty simple affair. The camera can be suction-mounted on a window or another flat surface, and precise instructions tell you how to keep it stuck there. You can also install the camera on a supplied hard mount that allows camera angle adjustment, albeit manually. The eyeball of the camera itself provides about 45 degrees of deflection in any direction, as well as adjustable wide-angle viewing. Also, there's a stand, if you wish to simply set the camera on top of a flat surface.
The LukWerks DVSS uses your home AC layout for network connectivity, and you can plug in the camera's powered Ethernet relay module to any receptacle in your home or office. The receiver connects to your PC via USB. Many universal power supplies and other devices that clean up power signals can interfere with communications signals, and the included documentation warns about that. WiLife recommends plugging the modules directly into the wall, though we did fine with simple capacitor-protected power strips.
Software setup was lengthy process, with reboots to install .Net and the Werks control application. We also had some minor issues during setup on two mature XP machines, but the effort and the wait were worth it (unfortunately, the product is currently compatible only with Windows systems). During the installation process, you can designate how much of your hard disk space you want to devote to video recordings, and the feed is recorded as compressed WMV files. The Werks utility is attractively designed and easy to use, and it provides all the control over cameras and security you need. With it, you can adjust the sensitivity of the motion detection (within the entire viewing frame, or a subframe), instruct the system to send warnings to an e-mail address or a cell phone or handheld device when motion is detected, and view camera feeds live, as well as relay them to the Werks Web site. For remote viewing, you'll need to set up an account at the WiLife Web site: your home PC will serve video feeds to WiLife's server, and you can watch from any Internet-connected terminal by logging in to your account.
Unfortunately, it took a number of calls to and from WiLife to get Werks to establish contact with the WiLife site so that we could register and view the feed from our single test camera. However, our pain is your gain, and after a WiLife application engineer entered the fray, a new configuration was e-mailed our way, and quick as you can say ".Net is timing out," we were able to see the feed online. The fix won't be integrated into Werks until the next release, but you can get it from tech support if you experience the same problem.
We did have a few, decidedly minor, beefs with the LukWerks system: the software always defaults to Internet Explorer no matter which browser you normally use; you can't disable the Ethernet or secondary activity lights on the camera (for complete stealth); and the program doesn't autodetect cameras the first time you boot--we thought there was a connection problem until we realized we had to add them manually. And while we understand the security benefits of having to log on to the LukWerks service, having the option to view each camera via its own IP address would be nice as well.
On the other hand, the video from the camera is quite good, and you may adjust it from 5 frames per second (fps), 320x240, 150Kbps to 15fps, 640x480, 800Kbps, depending on the speed of your connections and needs. From our location, lower settings offered much better performance when viewed online, but your mileage will vary with your connection.
WiLife covers the hardware with a one-year warranty. The WiLife LukWerks Web site is among the most lucid and straightforward we've seen, as is the help you'll find there. Toll-free phone support is available 24/7, or you can fill out a Web support form to request help--with a promise that a support technician will contact you within 24 hours. The site also has FAQs, a tips-and-tricks section, and downloadable software, firmware, and manuals.