The scoop: Belkin NetCam HD Wi-Fi with Night Vision, about $130, by Belkin
What is it? This IP-based network camera provides homeowners with a convenient way to monitor remote surroundings from within the home or across the Internet. The latest version records in 720p resolution (1280 by 720), and includes a free app (iOS or Android) that lets you monitor your camera via a smartphone or tablet. The camera connects to your home Wi-Fi network (2.4GHz, not 5GHz) to allow across-the-Internet viewing.
Why it’s cool: Setup was quite simple compared with previous network camera models I’ve tried out – I set up the entire camera via my iPhone and the app rather than needing a connected PC or Mac. The unit comes with its own Wi-Fi network for initial setup – once the app connects to it you can change the device’s Wi-Fi to connect to your own home network. Because the unit is Wi-Fi, you only need to place the camera near a power outlet.
The picture quality at the 720p resolution is good, although you will likely get a lower frames-per-second rate at the higher resolution. Fortunately, you can downgrade the resolution to 640x480 or 320x240 if you want to increase the frame rate. The unit also has a motion-detection system that can email you when it detects movement within the camera (the system has sensitivity settings), and the night vision component lets you see things when it gets dark. You can share your camera views with other friends (you send them email invites and they can login to your camera), or add cameras to your account for multi-camera monitoring.
Some caveats: I would have preferred an option for a text message alert rather than email for the motion detection – especially if you want to see immediately something happening (like in a security monitoring situation). While you can live record from the mobile device, it doesn’t appear that a motion-detection event triggers a recording – so a more immediate alert (users are likely to check their phones when it’s a text message vs. an email) would be handier. The alerts I received contained two JPG photos of the motion event, which may or may not be useful in a security situation. I was also a bit disappointed in the night vision aspect – trying to record the darkness outside from the camera through a window got me a white flash of the window’s reflection. In order to see a good night vision image, you’d have to either view the indoor darkness, or move the camera outside – filming through a window, while OK for daytime events, doesn’t work on the night vision side.
Grade: 3 stars (out of five).
The scoop: USB 3.0 to DVI External Video Card Multi Monitor Adapter with 1-Port USB Hub, by Startech.com, about $98.
What is it? This small gadget lets you connect a DVI-equipped monitor to your USB 3.0-enabled computer, while also giving you an additional USB 3.0 port that you can use for things like a wireless mouse or storage device. StarTech.com also makes adapters that let you connect VGA and HDMI-enabled monitors with the additional USB port as well.
Why it’s cool: Users with ultrabooks or other systems with limited USB ports available (we tried this on a system with only one USB port) can benefit from having the additional passthrough port. It lets you connect the ultrabook to an additional monitor to provide additional screen real estate while keeping the USB port available for something else. The unit also comes with a DVI-to-VGA adapter if you need to connect the gadget to a VGA display (or you could just buy the VGA version). The driver installation via Windows was straightforward, and everything worked as advertised. This solves a problem for ultrabook users looking to extend their screen to a secondary monitor via USB without having to lose the port for that function.
Some caveats: The price seems a bit high for an adapter of this type (check other sites for alternatives), but other than that I have no major complaints.
Grade: 4.5 stars
Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith.