Eye on the Classroom
Putting a Web cam in the classroom is a great way to let the principal look in on novice teachers, let parents participate in education and even allow home-bound kids to not miss out on an important lesson. Stem’s iZon does a good job of opening the classroom and is about as small, inexpensive and easy to set up as it gets, but it requires an iPad to set up and view the video.
iZon is a small white cylinder with a diameter of 1.3-inches and 3.3-inches tall. There’s a lens on one side and it comes with a magnetic base that lets you aim the camera anywhere in the room. It can be mounted on a wall or ceiling, hidden in a book case or just left out in the open on a desk. The camera is powered by an included USB electrical adapter with a 9-foot cord.
Based on WiFi, the system wants to use of WPA2 security settings on your school’s network. Setting it up requires no special knowledge and can be accomplished without trepidation by a technophobic teacher. You will need an iPad, iPhone or iPod to do it, however.
After downloading the Stem:Connect software from Apple’s App Store, installing and starting it up, click on the “+” icon to add the camera’s video stream. You’ll need to sign up for a free account, but this takes just a couple of minutes.
All told, it took me 10 minutes to go from opening the box to viewing video. It can get complicated, but a software wizard walks you through the steps. I set up iZon to watch a class pet: Slowy the Golden Greek Tortoise.
The camera’s video shows up as a thumbnail on the software’s main screen. Click on it and the stream starts flowing with well synchronized audio, but is subject to a 24 second delay. The company plans to release an app that uses Real-Time Transfer Protocol (RTP) technmology that can reduce this latency. The camera gets warm while it’s being used.
Its QVGA resolution is adequate, but underwhelming and several steps behind the latest Web cams. Its feed doesn’t fill the iPad’s display, but the company is planning on upgrading resolution to the VGA level.
There’s a prominent volume control under the video and the camera’s set up software lets you customize the video stream with the ability to turn on or off a light on the camera, set motion and audio alarms or flip the image. Any video can be uploaded to easily YouTube.
It can handle up to 8 viewers watching on the local WiFi network, but only one remote viewer. A dot in the upper right hand corner of the preview shows your connection status. A red dot means the camera is not connected, while yellow means remote and green means that you’re connected and ready to watch. Be careful, if you’re not on the same WiFi network as the camera – like a parent looking in on a class – you’re limited to 5 minutes of video at a time.
The emphasis on the iPad for configuring the iZon camera and playing its video is a double-edged sword. It simplifies set up and makes troubleshooting easy, but it limits the audience. A similar Android app would help, but what iZon really needs is a Web hosting system so that any computer -- PC, Mac or Linux -- would be able to watch the video.
iZon’s $130 price tag makes it a bargain, but where you can view its video is too constrained. At some point next year, the company is working on other ways to watch iZon’s video stream, making it picture perfect.
+ Small, unobtrusive video camera
+ Streams video to iPads
+ Adjustable base
- Requires iPad, iPhone or iPod
- Video delay
- Remote video limited to 5 minutes at a time