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Evaluation: Panasonic i-Pro WV-SW175

October 24th, 2012 by James Drinkwater

Panasonic i-Pro WV-SW175

Panasonic’s now end-of-line BB-HCM735 was one of the best-selling network cameras in their home/office range, offering very decent VGA resolution footage in an outdoor-ready casing with pan/tilt movement and 2-way audio, while still being very cost-effective. Now that this camera has been discontinued, we’ve taken a look at its replacement; the Panasonic i-Pro WV-SW175. Does this camera still offer the same good value as its predecessor?

First things first, let’s see some sample footage from the camera.

Sample video

For this demonstration, the camera is set around 6m above the ground in an outdoor setting. The subjects enter the scene at about 20m distance. Face recognition is possible around the 10m mark (not entirely evident in this YouTube video). Beyond this the focus is too soft for adequate recognition.

Resolution has changed from the previous model. Only 4:3 resolutions were previously supported up to 1280×960. This maximum resolution is the same in the WV-SW175, but this camera now also supports 16:9 resolutions, including HD 720p.

On top of this, the previous model would only achieve top resolution if configured in a very specific manner which rendered most of its functionality, including FTP and event detection, useless. These have been lifted now and all functionality is available in all resolutions.

The maximum frame rate of 30fps is also unchanged from the previous model, but again, the limitations on how the camera can be configured to achieve this resolution have been relaxed.

Key features

Pan/tilt

The powered pan and tilt system is extremely useful for covering large areas. The camera provides 95° of lateral movement and 55° vertical. The vertical movement however is not symmetrical, providing 10° movement upwards and 45° downwards, meaning that the camera needs to be mounted at height for optimum area coverage.

Movement is controlled from the web interface, with 8-direction buttons for rough movement and a “touchpad-style” aiming area for more accurate movement. Up to 64 presets can be set for quick movement between angles. The camera even adds a visual aid for switching with the preset map-shot facility which provides thumbnails of the first 8 presets for easy switching.

Outdoor-readiness

As with this camera’s predecessors, the box includes all the fittings for outdoor installation including weathershield, connection cover, foam covering and weatherproof tape. The design for these is identical to the older camera and as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We have no concerns and the new model is built in just as robust a way.

It’s worth noting that this camera is only IP55-rated, meaning that it can withstand jets of water from any direction. However, if the camera is immersed in water, it would fail. That being said, in the years that Panasonic have manufactured IP55-rated cameras, we’ve only heard of a single camera failure, and even that was due to an installation incorrectly performed.

Wide Dynamic Range

Panasonic’s Wide Dynamic Range system is common to most i-Pro cameras and provides the ability to capture higher detail in both bright and dark areas simultaneously.

We performed two tests on the camera; the first from a dark room with a window as a strong backlighting source, the second from a bright room down a dark corridor.

You’ll see from the video above the window backlight footage shows a significant increase in dynamic range, exposing the external buildings which were previously too bright to see, without affecting the room scene.

The footage shot into the darkened corridor does not show as sizable an improvement, though the subject is arguably easier to see and to identify.

The difference in results, as with most image-related issues, comes down to light. The more light on a subject, the more the camera can do to improve the image. Without it, the camera struggles.

Face detection / Face Wide Dynamic Range

Automated face detection in i-Pro is still in its infancy but is proving to be effective. Testing the system, faces are detected when within 40° of the camera. The system isn’t advanced enough to detect when faces are viewed in profile (as you’d expect!). We tried to intentionally trick the camera into false detection but found it was remarkably accurate.

Range is the biggest issue with the face detection system. During testing we found that subjects need to be within 4m for detection. A substantial limitation which we put down to pixel resolution, but one that should be manageable at the planning stage of a security system installation.

Building on the face detection system, the Face Wide Dynamic Range feature is designed to automatically adjust the image exposure when faces are in view. As a result, features should be more clearly defined and easier to identify.

We’re going to cover this feature in depth in its own post. Check back for further details.

SD card recording

The recording system on the camera is quite basic, yet still effective. Recordings can be made manually from the web interface or begin automatically on camera alarm such as motion detection or when periodic footage fails to transmit to FTP servers, providing a backup during network issues.

Recorded footage can be accessed through the web interface. The log window displays an easy-to-search list of footage in chronological order. Operators can then quickly pinpoint the time an event happened and download the footage. Our test recordings showed the video recordings to be very smooth with few, if any, dropped frames.

Price

At the time of writing, this camera is available at £444. The previous model was available around the £300 mark, so there is a moderate cost increase, but there is a lot more functionality on this camera. Additionally, other outdoor-ready pan/tilt cameras are substantially more expensive. For locations that require pan and tilt outdoors, the WV-SW175 really is a no-brainer.

Evaluation

With a predecessor like the BB-HCM735, the WV-SW175 has a lot to live up to. However, it does so well. The unshackling of the frame rate and resolution alone make the new camera far superior.

The inclusion of Wide Dynamic Range capability is another bonus. As we’ve said before, any feature which increases the chances of identification is well worth having. The increase in dynamic range may not be huge, but it could potentially be the difference between a subject being identified or not, and where security is concerned, there are no second chances.

The face detection system could benefit from some further improvement. The system identifies faces well, but the application of this is limited. The only on-camera system to utilise this capability is Face Wide Dynamic Range, which does work, but has its own limitations. It would be useful to have perhaps even a limited identification function built-in, perhaps allowing a single individual to be targeted/tracked for recording, or even logging how long that subject is within detection range. To be clear, the Face Detection feature does not track individuals – just faces. It’s more a pattern-matching feature built specifically to detect face shapes.

The internal SD card recording system has been improved and can now capture full HD 720p video where the old camera could not capture at full resolution. Locating events is also much easier than before.

The only real gripe we have, and it is a big one, is the change in user interface. With the new model being part of Panasonic’s i-Pro range it features the i-Pro GUI while the older model featured the GUI from Panasonic’s home/office network cameras. Although this software provided fewer features, it was easier to navigate and set up. More problematic is the interface’s reliance on Internet Explorer (Windows only) for configuration. Of course, Panasonic’s argument for this limitation is that being part of the i-Pro range these cameras are destined to be inserted into and configured via VMS systems like Milestone’s XProtect, or though Panasonic’s own recording software or range of NVRs. However, in my experience most cameras will be at some point or other be configured directly via a browser and to lack support for non-IE browsers, particularly when its direct predecessor did not suffer this problem, seems somewhat of an oversight, particularly given the inclusion of standalone detection and alerting features.

WV-SW175 GUI interface

Conclusion

Does the WV-SW175 offer the same good value as its predecessor? Most definitely. It may be a little more expensive than the BB-HCM735, but the increase in functionality and the HD video capability more than make up for this.

There are very few other cameras to compare the WV-SW175 with. There are few pan/tilt cameras which are natively outdoor-ready without requiring an additional housing or around the same price point. The camera is a step up from the BB-HCM735, but considering the market this camera is selling into, some strange decisions have been made by Panasonic. We are sure there will be a firmware release soon to address the issues we’ve raised and we look forward to blogging about that in the very near future!

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

2 Responses to “Evaluation: Panasonic i-Pro WV-SW175”

  1. Richcard R says:

    My evaluation isn’t as rosy as yours. If you rely exclusively on ftp’ing the images to a server, there’s some missing functionality. Specifically, you can’t send more than 1 frame per second (JPG) to an ftp server. You can’t send *any* H.264 captures. You must rely on the on-board SD card to capture those.

    For FTP captures, there’s no pre-alarm buffer of pictures as there was with previous incarnations of these cameras.

    The IE interface is quite debilitating. It does not work well with IE10 so I had to downgrade to a more compatible version. I’m lucky I’m not an exclusive Mac or Linux user.

    All of these would be easy fixes if Panasonic were to issue a new firmware release.

  2. Adam says:

    As you said you require internet explorer to use this camera (or any i-pro camera)
    I find that unprofessional because not all people use windows computers and mac and linux computers are incompatible

    this is the only mainstream brand that WILL not work in browsers other than ie
    heres some brands that do
    1) Axis
    2) JVC
    3) Panasonic BL range (no idea why the home range work in other browsers)
    4) Canon (rebranded axis cameras)
    5) Sony
    6) Pelco
    7) Dedicated Micros
    And the list goes on.

    My conclusion, I will not buy ANY i-pro cameras until this at least is fixed let alone the other issues.

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