Not too long ago we showed you how you could simply and inexpensively setup a home monitoring network using PoE and IP cameras. So now that you have built a four camera setup, how do you monitor it without the need to have a computer sitting right next to you all the time?
TRENDnet has a very good answer for you and one that does not need to always show off what is going on with the cameras. This is the TRENDnet TV-M7. The TV-M7 is a 7-inch Wireless Camera Monitor that also doubles as a digital photo frame, media player, Clock, Calendar and a host of other features. This means that you can place this out in the open and feel safe in the knowledge that it will not be too obtrusive.
But despite its cover as a photo frame, it is an easy to use device that can monitor up to four IP cameras and display them in a cluster or scan through them one at a time on the screen. The TV-M7 also sports a slot for an SD card in addition to internal memory for your pictures and media. Wireless connectivity is 802.11n and can handle WEP, WPA and WPA2. It looks like an impressive device and a must for a home monitoring system, but what it looks like on paper and reality are often different. Let's see how close they are this time.
The TV-M7 comes in a rather large box for a 7-inch device. In fact, if you just look at it you would not think that this was a camera monitor, but a Digital Photo frame. This was probably TRENDnet's intent. Of course, the words "7-inch Wireless Internet Camera and Photo Monitor" would probably give it away.
As Per their normal practice, the back of the box shows you how the TV-M7 fits into your network and what accessories are available from TRENDnet to work with it.
Inside you will find everything you need to get the TV-M7 running as well as a couple of items to add to your experience. These extras are a pair of designer frames and a USB cable for connection to your PC.
The TRENDnet TV-M7
The TRENDnet TV-M7 is a nice looking device. It is not as fancy as some of the Digital Photo frames I have seen, but it is still attractive. I tried each of the included custom frame overlays and ended up using the plain black side of the black patterned one. I found this reduced glare and did not draw the eyes away from the image on the screen.
The back has mounting holes for easy mounting on the wall, vents to help keep the TV-M7 cool and a spot to attach the included leg stand.
Looking at the back, you can see an opening for a SD Memory card on the right side. This is for use with an external memory card. With this you can increase the amount of available memory for the TV-M7. You can also use this to flash the firmware to an updated version. Below this is a speaker port for attaching external speakers.
On the left side the TV-M7 has a mini-USB port and the power adapter plug. Just beneath the power plug is a small reset switch. To use this you need something thin like a needle or pin.
On the top and hidden by the large outer frame are a series of controls that allow you to move through functions on the TV-M7.
Setup and Installation
The setup of the TV-M7 is pretty simple if all you are interested in is monitoring.
You will need to give it power and then navigate to the settings page and select Network Setup. From there you can follow the menus for your type of network. You will need to use the virtual keyboard to enter your wireless key, but it is pretty easy to use with the remote once you get the hang of it.
After you get connected to your wireless network the full functions of the TV-M7 really open up to you.
The primary purpose of the TV-M7 is as a monitor for IP cameras. As such, we will cover how to get that working first. From the main menu you can setup the connection to a range of TRENDnet IP (TV-IP110, TV-IP110W, TV-IP212, TV-IP212W, TV-IP312, TV-IP312W, TV-IP410, TV-IP410W, TV-IP422, and TV-IP422W) cameras you have in your network. The TV-M7 is able to connect to and view up to four cameras at once and can scan between up to 16 cameras.
To connect to your IP cameras you will need to select the IP Cameras and Network icon with the remote and click enter. Once there you will notice a few interesting options. We will cover those later. For now you will want to click on the IP Cameras icon. The TV-M7 is able to automatically detect any of the supported IP cameras that are operational on your network. However, while it can detect them, it is not able to automatically access them. To get into the cameras you will have to know the user names and passwords for them. Once you input the proper logon information you will be able to view live streaming video from the camera. Unfortunately the TV-M7 is not able to move pan and tilt cameras. You can take a snapshot that is saved to the TV-M7's local memory, but not much more than that.
IP Camera viewing is not the only thing the TV-M7 is capable of, though. TRENDnet has stuffed in some very nice extras for you to play with. As you saw on the IP Camera and Network menu, you can access your Flickr and Picasa Accounts. You can allow the TV-M7 to access these and download photos (JPEG or BMP) for display in a slide show turning the TV-M7 into a 7-inch digital photo frame. Of course, these accounts must be publicly viewable and downloadable for this to work.
The last option is to allow for your TV-M7 to access a Network Attached Storage Device and pull pictures from there. The TV-M7 also supports streaming of pictures and music from a NAS, but at the time of this writing cannot stream any video files.
To do this you would access the account (Picasa or Flickr) or the NAS folder you want to get your images from. With Flickr and Picasa the TV-M7 will automatically download images and will start the slideshow function as soon as it completes. With the NAS option you will need to manually select the images you want and copy them to the TV-M7.
A final way to get images over to the TV-M7 is to directly connect the TV-M7 to a PC or Mac and copy the files over to the internal storage or to an inserted SD card.
For the rest of the TV-M7 setup (including customizing the way the TV-M7 handles videos and pictures), you can head over to the setup Icon and dive down into the various menus and items there.
But viewing pictures is not all that the TV-M7 can do, you can also watch a video (MJPEG / VGA @20fps, MPEG1 / VGA @30fps, MPEG-4 / D1 @30fps, H.264 BP / CIF@30fps formats) complete with audio, listen to music (MP3, WMA, AAC-LC (MPEG4)) stored internally or on an SD-Card, and also use the TV-M7 as a clock/calendar for your desktop.
As with displaying images, the videos and or music must be copied to the local device to either internal storage or an inserted SD card. To access the media you can either navigate to the Internal Memory (or SD Card) icon to open the video or music you want or for music you can press the Photo/Music button on the remote to see a listing of music you have to play. Unfortunately the audio quality it very poor; the single speaker gives off a hollow and reedy sound. I would not recommend it for use as an audio playback device.
Video Viewing is another feature of the TV-M7 (and one that makes sense). You can access video files (MJPEG, MPEG1, MPEG4) stored either locally or on a removable storage card. The playback quality is not the best and (as mentioned above) the audio quality is very poor. It is a feature that ties in with the primary purpose of the TV-M7 which is a viewer for connected TRENDnet IP cameras. So, while the video playback feature is not the most stunning feature, it still makes sense in the long run.
One of the "bread and butter" features of the TV-M7 is picture viewing. As we mentioned above in the setup, you are able to pull pictures from a rather large number of sources. These can be displayed either singly or in a looped slide show. If you display an image as a standalone image, you can also add in a clock and calendar to the display to add functionality (and more of a disguise, too) for the TV-M7. In fact, it is this function that allows the TV-M7 to occupy a spot on my desk and moonlight as a clock and picture frame when I am not using it to monitor the cameras on my security system.
But the main reason for the TV-M7 is to monitor IP cameras. You can monitor up to four IP cameras simultaneously. When in the Camera view you can select one and click on the Zoom button to view that camera in full screen mode. Unfortunately this only allows viewing and not control of the camera. It would be a very nice feature if you could control pan and tilt cameras with the TV-M7, but sadly this is not the case. Still, the ability to view attached IP cameras from a single innocuous location is a good thing.
The last feature we will talk about is not so much a feature as a necessity; this is the included remote. With this remote you can navigate through the items on the menu (using the arrow buttons) as well as jump directly to many functions with a single press of a button.
Now how do you test this sort of device? For us the only way that we found we could do that was by making sure each of these features worked exactly as advertised.
Picture Frame - This feature is one of the best in the TV-M7; the screen is bright, but not contrasty and is able to display both portrait and landscape images quite well. We did run into a few minor performance (speed) issues with pulling from Flickr and Picasa to local storage, but other than those minor stutters there were no issues with displaying images in a looped slide show or a single static image.
Video Viewing - Unfortunately this one is a little less than fantastic. The video quality is not great and the audio (due to the speakers used) is just plain terrible. You could spend a little extra and use a set of external speakers, but that (in our opinion) defeats the purpose. I would not recommend this for use as a playback device for movies or other types of video.
Music Playback - As we mentioned with video playback, we found that audio playback was not at all up to our standards. It was hollow, reedy and lacked any presence. As we mentioned above, you could use external speakers but it only adds to the cost and bulk of the product.
IP Camera Monitoring - As this is what the TV-M7 was designed to do, it was the best functioning part of the product. I was able to view both of the TV-IP422W cameras that I had attached. The streaming video quality was good in both bright and low light conditions.
Clock/Calendar - This feature is a minor one, but I found it to be quite handy. I like the ability to show an image (picture) of my choosing and to have the clock visible in the corner. I do wish that TRENDnet had made it a little "cooler" looking, but in the end it is more than functional.
Wireless Connectivity - The speed of the g spec wireless was more than enough to account for up to four IP cameras in live view. This speed was also good enough to stream pictures from a NAS share and only had minor issues when grabbing images from Picasa or Flickr. The biggest problem is during the initial setup. Despite the ability to connect the TV-M7 to a computer, you still have to use a virtual keyboard. This can take more than a few minutes to get setup properly. TRENDnet may want to look into allowing for configuration through IP or when directly connected in future revisions.
So what are we to make of the TV-M7? Our feeling is that it is an excellent companion to TRENDnet's line of wireless (and wired) IP cameras. I would not recommend it for setups of less than two cameras, unless you are using a single camera as a door monitor. At that point the ability to listen to audio from the camera (if turned on in the camera setup) stands out, as does the lack of a microphone to send audio back.
As a digital picture frame the TV-M7 performs admirably well. The small internal storage is overcome by the ability to throw in a removable drive to handle your images. Added to this is the ability to pull images from a network share (like a NAS); this makes for a very versatile digital photo frame. Other options along these lines allow you to change the length of time the images stay visible as well as changing the transition type. Audio and Video playback are certainly not high-lights of the TV-M7 at all. They are included more as an afterthought (due to being able to stream live video and audio) more than a full feature. The clock/calendar function is more of an alternative use one, although it does work quite well and even helps conceal the primary use of the TV-M7.
The included remote is easy to use and offers multiple paths to use the TV-M7's features. During our time with the TV-M7 we placed it on our desk, our nightstand and even on the wall near the front door. In every place it was put we were still able to use all of the available features and still easily revert back to its original intended purpose. If you are looking to setup a multiple camera security system but do not want to turn on a computer every time you want to view the cameras, then the TV-M7 is a great item. It can shift to a simple clock, calendar or digital photo frame when not in use, but allow you very quick access to your external "eyes" with a simple press of a button on the remote. And really, when you are thinking of security and monitoring that is exactly what you would want.
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