By Andrew Brandt Net-enabled cameras have entered the age of talkies, thanks to a new gadget from Axis Communications that acts as a voice-over-IP bridge for the company's line of networked cameras. The Axis 2191 Audio Module adds audio capability to an Axis camera server, permitting two-way communication. Audio makes the package a better business security tool and allows the package to function as a videoconferencing tool.
The $249 module connects to the serial port on the back of an Axis camera server--a high-quality camera with an on-board operating system and ethernet connector. It's a quick way to enhance the camera's usefulness. With the module, the Axis system can detect ambient sound and even relay audio response through optional speakers. A firmware upgrade prepares the camera for the module. I simply hooked up my shipping unit, powered it on, and enabled the voice features in the camera's firmware operating system via a Web browser. To videoconference, users on the other end connect to the camera through their Web browser and download an ActiveX control.
There are a few catches: The module works only with Axis cameras, which cost around $400. And sound quality suffers if camera and listener are far apart--say, Boston and Seattle. It's not ideal for videoconferencing either, since you have to connect to the camera's internal Web server, which has a limited ability to process high-bandwidth video and audio data. Use a high-quality speakerphone instead.
For security use and for person-to-person online chatting, however, the camera server, coupled with the audio module, works reasonably well and is a breeze to set up. From the April 2002 issue of PC World magazine