Gadling Gear Review: iZon Remote Room Monitor

Have you ever been away from home and wished that you had the ability to look in just to see what was happening back at the domicile? If so, then Stem Innovation has a product that may be of interest to you. Whether you’re in the room next door or halfway around the world, Stem’s Izon Remote Room Monitor is a simple, inexpensive way to monitor what is happening around your house.

At its core the iZon is essentially an always-on wireless webcam that is configured and controlled by an iPhone and iPad app. The unit is small and inconspicuous and once configured it only needs power to stay active. The camera’s built-in base allows it to be swiveled to just the right angle, while a single green LED light indicates that it is in operation.

The initial set-up of the iZon is fairly straightforward provided you follow the included instructions. That process begins by downloading the Stem:Connect app and installing it on your iOS device. From there, users create a Stem account, which is used to log in to the app and register your devices. Stem:Connect actually allows you to control multiple cameras and the personal account helps to keep track of each of them individually. Those different cameras can also be assigned unique names, such as “Bedroom” or “Office,” which makes it easier to differentiate them from within the app itself.

After installing Stem:Connect and creating a personal account, you’ll next need to connect the camera to your wireless network. That is also accomplished through the app, which gives you the ability to select your Wi-Fi network and type in the password needed to join. Once that process is complete, the iZon will restart itself and begin broadcasting video and sound.Once the configuration process is complete the app serves as the monitor as well, allowing users to see whatever the iZon sees. Logging into Stem:Connect gives you the option to select the camera you want to view and then begins streaming video directly from that device. The quality of the video is average at best and isn’t likely to wow you, although it does serve its purpose just fine. The images are definitely improved in well-lit environments and on faster network connections, just don’t expect high definition quality.

Besides simply broadcasting live video, the iZon has a few other tricks up its sleeve as well. For example, you can configure it to send you an alert when unexpected motion or sounds occur on camera. This is handy when you are using the device to monitor a baby’s room, for instance, and you want to know when the child has stirred. Stem has also given the iZon the ability to upload video directly to a YouTube account making it a breeze to capture and share some of the best moments you see on the cam. These options add versatility to a device that already provides quite a bit of functionality for its $129.95 suggested retail price.

The iZone certainly is an affordable option for those looking for a video monitoring system for their home or office but it doesn’t come without compromise. As mentioned, the video quality isn’t particularly outstanding and there is a pronounced lag between what happens in front of the camera and what is displayed on the screen. Even using it on my fast home network, I often experienced a delay of 30 seconds or more between when something actually occurred and when it appeared on my iPad. That delay is worse when you shift to a remote Wi-Fi network or are using a 3G or 4G connection.

Connecting from those remote networks can be a challenge too. The iZon is designed to be plug-and-play, and while it was easy to configure the device and get it working on my personal Wi-Fi network, I had issues being able to connect to the camera while I was away from home. What good is a remote monitoring system if you can only use it while you’re actually at home? Fortunately, I was able to resolve the issue by opening the proper ports on my wireless router, so a rudimentary knowledge of networking can help make the process easier. To their credit, Stem Innovation has released regular updates to both the device’s firmware and the Stem:Connect app, which have helped alleviate some of the challenges of getting the camera working. Just be prepared to dig in a bit deeper if the iZon doesn’t function as expected out of the box.

In terms of an inexpensive and easy to configure remote room monitoring system, it is hard to beat the iZon. It is small, works well with an iPhone or iPad and has a low cost of entry. If you can live with the compromises in video quality and broadcast lag, this is probably the best way to monitor what is taking place around the home without breaking the bank.

Denali National Park Introduces New Sled Dog Pups

One of the great annual traditions at Denali National Park is the arrival of a new litter of sled dog pups. The park, which is located in Alaska‘s spectacular and remote wilderness, maintains its own sled dog team for use in patrolling the region throughout the long winter months. Without these teams much of Denali would not be accessible for portions of the year, which makes these trusty canines an important part of the park service team.

In order to maintain a strong and healthy sled dog team the onsite kennel breeds a single female each year. This year that lucky mom is a dog named Sultana, who gave birth to three pups a few weeks back. The names of those new pups hasn’t been announced yet, but they have been introduced to the world via the kennel’s live webcam.

When breeding huskies to be a part of the Denali sled dog team, the kennel is looking for strong dogs with long legs that can easily break trail in deep snow. They also prefer compact paws that can resist the build-up of snow and ice, as well as thick coats and puffy tails to keep the dogs warm in the Alaskan winters. It is too early yet to know if these new pups will exhibit all of those traits but considering their parents were hand picked it is likely they’ll join the team sometime in the future.

For now, the pups will stay in the kennel, and on webcam, until they are old enough to start their training. That means that throughout the summer we’ll be able to watch them grow up before our very eyes. Stop back whenever you need a quick dose of cute.

[Photo courtesy Denali National Park Facebook Page]

Statue of Liberty getting five webcams for 125th anniversary

This Friday, the Statue of Liberty turns 125 years old, and to celebrate she’s getting some new high-tech gear in the form of five webcams located inside her torch. Four of the cameras will point towards Ellis Island, Governors Island, Liberty Island and the Freedom Tower respectively, while the fifth will give viewers a unique look at the torch itself.

The new cameras will go live during a ceremony that will cap a week filled with special events commemorating the original dedication of Lady Liberty, which took place on October 29, 1886. The 151-foot tall statue was a gift to the United States from France in honor of the ten year anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. During the Revolutionary War, the two nations became close allies, and the U.S. revolution would later inspire many in France to follow suit.

The new webcams will operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week, and offer a full panorama of the New York City harbor. They have been installed in the torch, well above the crown, and will provide views that haven’t been seen from the statue since 1916.

Friday’s ceremony is open to the public and will also include 125 candidates from 40 different countries, taking the oath of citizenship. Actress Sigourney Weaver will be on hand to read the “Mother of Exiles” poem, written by Emma Lazarus, which helped to make the statue so famous. It was Lazarus who penned the phrase “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Those hoping to attend the ceremony are encouraged to arrive early. Ferry service will be available between Manhattan and Liberty Island. For the rest of us, we’ll have to just wait until the webcams are switched on to take in the new view.

Scientists install webcam to spy on Mt. Everest

Research scientists focused on the impact of climate change on the Himalaya have installed a new webcam to keep an eye on Mt. Everest. The high-definition camera is part of a larger initiative called SHARE, or “Stations at High Altitude for Research on the Environment,” which hopes to track the retreating glaciers on the world’s tallest peak – something that is already having a profound effect on the region.

The webcam is actually installed on nearby Kala Patthar, which offers some of the best views of Everest’s South Side. The camera is powered by solar energy, which means it is only active from 6AM to 6PM local Nepal time. But when it is transmitting images, it auto-updates every five minutes, providing some spectacular images of the mountain. You can examine those images for yourself simply by clicking here.

The SHARE team also installed a sophisticated set of meteorological monitors on Kala Patthar as well. Those sensors are feeding back data on temperature, wind speed, barometric pressure, and the like. The data will be used in the long term by the scientists studying climate change, but it can also offer us a glimpse of what conditions are like in the High Himalaya as well. Weather buffs can view that data feed by clicking here.

With the famed Khumbu Glacier in full retreat, the impact of its shrinking size is already leaving an indelible mark on the local people. As small streams and rivers begin to dry up, many of the villages lose their fresh water supply, and are now forced to walk extra miles just to find the water they need. If that continues, the Himalaya could have a severe water crisis on its hand in the very near fture.

One wild year in Banff National Park

Banff National Park, located in the the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada, is a truly wild place. But I’m not sure anyone knew just exactly how wild it is, until the park launched its remote wildlife camera project last year. The project stationed a number of webcams throughout the park, allowing visitors to check in on the various sites from the comfort of their own homes.

Now, the park has released a whole year’s worth of videos and images from one of those cameras, demonstrating the diversity of wildlife that wanders by on a regular basis. In the video, which you’ll find below, you’ll be able to spot plenty of deer and elk, but also bear, moose, wolves, mountain lions, and a whole lot more. There are even a few people who wander by on foot or mountain bike, and there were at least two groups of pack horses that passed by too.

It is a pretty amazing video that begins with a date stamp of May 31, 2010 and ends at May 30, 2011. In between, there is a whole lot of amazing sights to be seen.