If you have a need to monitor the activities of your nanny, house sitter, house cleaner, or other part-time guests and need a no-brainer contraption to do so, the motion-activated SD-V03 Color Spy Camera from Spy Gadgets can do the duty. While I don’t have a need to monitor my kids’ nanny, I do have a desire to determine the identity of the person or persons who left a strange note on my door a few weeks ago.
I also have wildlife in my backyard that I like to keep track of. And, of course, I want to see if it is my dog that keeps turning the cable box on in the middle of the night so that my “All On” button on my universal remote is rendered useless in the mornings.
This little camera looks like (and functions as) a digital LCD clock but disguises a pretty nice set of features for the buck.
5V DC (wall wart included)
Color MPEG4 compression D1 format (XVID codec)
30 or 15 FPS
Flash SD card from 128M to 32G
It actually took me longer than I had thought to finish this review because I kept using it and abusing it, expecting to find something with the unit to go wrong. I never expect anything (especially anything with an LCD screen) to work the way they are supposed to. But I really couldn’t find anything major with the SD-V03 aside from a few nuisances; and it just works. It even comes equipped with a 1 GB SD card to get you started. So it really does just work right out of the box. Following are the main features of the camera and how I thought that they fared.
Tour of the Chassis
First, the camera is disguised as an LCD digital clock, a little larger than the size of a fist. The body has a smooth texture; it is black plastic, but doesn’t show fingerprints and has a slick feel to it. The business end, (the camera) is located on the front and is integrated into an innocuous slider button that looks like an adjustment for the clock. In fact you can actually slide the camera lens up and down to achieve various vertical angles with this slider.
At the rear of the clock is the AC/DC input (60Hz or 50Hz) and the slot for the SD video card. The biggest problem I had with the system is this slot. While the slot provides for spring-like insertion and removal (as is found on most card readers), for this slot you have to use a stylus of some sort to fully insert the card or extract it. The mechanism to accept the card is just too far back.
The bottom of the clock contains a 4-AAA battery cave. The batteries can be used to optionally (but temporarily) hold the clock’s settings when moving the clock from room to room when not powered in. The batteries in my unit lasted about an hour when I let them run without the AC power. So you could actually run it without AC power for a small amount of time if needed. It also comes with a 12V DC input in case you want to spy on your rear-seat passengers during your commute to the office. (Or if you live off the grid.) When you plug in the AC, it takes a few seconds for it to fully boot up and a few times it did not come up, even after 30 seconds, so I just shut it down, let it sit for a bit and eventually got it to come up.
On top of the clock are three unmarked buttons. As with most clocks, once you set up the time, you will totally forget what the buttons do, so I guess I won’t say much more about that except that they are used to set the date and time; frames per second and video resolution/size. I might tape the button instructions to the bottom of the console to help me remember the various functions.
The two most interesting buttons are the start/stop button, which enables and disables the recording capability (again, recording only occurs when enabled and when motion is detected), and the right button which turns on and off a back light on the front panel (Which could be helpful if you use the clock on your nightstand or need it as a night light of some sort. And you want to spy on yourself sleeping or capture those aliens when they come to do experiments on you. Ok, whatever.) Even without futzing with setting up the time, you can still use the camera capability right out of the box, though the timestamps on your resulting files will not be accurate.
That brings us to the rest of the front panel, the LCD screen. It displays the date and time.
Additionally it displays whether or not a memory card is installed; whether it is being powered by the AC wall wart or batteries; the frame per second chosen, and the currently-selected video resolution. The final item that appears on the clock is a little funny given that it is a “spy” camera-clock: a flashing movie camera icon appears when it is capturing video. (I wasn’t able to sync up my camera with the rate of the flashing icon for the above shot to capture the icon.) This gives you feedback and confirmation that it is working, but it might be hard to explain to your house cleaner why “that funny little clock on the book case over there keeps flashing whenever I dust the shelves”. My primary “subject” (my dog) really isn’t that observant, though, so I’m not worried that he’ll figure that out.
The video quality is pretty good depending on the resolution selected and lighting conditions. Again, I expected something similar to the examples shown on the “Smoking Gun” taken by hidden cameras in super markets. But this is not the case at all. The pictures are in color, clear, and the camera auto-adjusts with various lighting conditions. As a scene is recorded, the data is captured to AVI files. When a file has reached 10MB, a new file is created and each file is given a file name based on the timestamp at which it started recording. This is a nice touch for those of you who have ever dealt with large files; having them automatically split is very handy.
The camera properly handles lighting conditions well and is very sensitive when detecting movement. This was my biggest point of skepticism: would the thing actually detect movement and record when I was not actually there staring at? I never assume that things work. I assumed there was a special setting that had to be “enabled” before it would “really” sense movement. Turns out I was wrong and it does detect motion even when I’m not around staring at it. Makes for interesting results depending on where it is placed in your house. As it turned out, the motion detection is pretty sensitive. When I ran it over the course of a day pointing out my window to my front door (to capture the sales people leaving notes that look deceptively like UPS notifications with a request to call them), the camera picked up a lot of otherwise non-activity as the Colorado wind tore through my front yard. As the trees swayed and the dust blew, the camera picked up that movement and I had a lot of videos of the wind blowing. But actually, that is how my life goes. Ahem. Again, though, since the action was split among 10MB files, I only had to view the first couple of seconds of each of the files to tell that nothing was going on except the wind blowing. Kind of a bummer. I kept imagining some evil-doer in a dark cape and sunglasses dropping off those annoying fliers. It also captured items in the distance, such as cars out on the street as they drove by.
It also handles various lighting conditions well. I had it pointed towards my front door when the sun was pouring in (back-lit). Although the characters in these shots were a little burned out, they were still visible and the camera didn’t miss a movement.
I noticed that the camera would also pick up scenes when there really wasn’t any movement but there were shadows cast by the moving sun.
Finally, another good test came for free. As it happened, I wanted to create a reality show based on the squirrel house in my backyard. I set up the camera on a ladder on about the windiest dang day of the year. You can see the action in the video below. A bird flies out of the tree and a big swoop of wind comes in and the ladder tipped over, spilling the camera onto the ground. This was all captured on video and the camera kept right on filming.
Setting up for wildlife shots and pointing camera at wildlife habitat. Ok, it’s a squirrel house on the tree on the right in the 2nd picture. What caused the ladder to fall?
As I mentioned, the files are chunked as needed into 10MB files, with the
timestamp used as a the filename prefix. They are AVI files and I could read them on my Windows 7 and Windows XP boxes just fine. When I ran them through the “GSpot” video analyzer, the CODEC reported was XVID.
A few of the files can become corrupted during initial filming and even the video showing the action of the ladder tipping over initially was corrupt (or at least I could not read them using the regular windows media player that I used for the other videos). But I was able to save the file with the “Super” audio/video conversion software.
So the verdict? A nice, easy-to-use camera for video action which is unobtrusive, detects motion, and is fairly rugged and reliable. The only problems involved a few glitches when the device was turned on and in getting the SD card in and out. I’m going to purchase a super large SD card for it and leave it running for a few days in front of my door again. Wish they had a “no knock” law here.
Following are a few of the videos I’ve captured.
This was an attempt to capture wild life with bait placed in front of the camera to entice the wild life. As it turned out, however, a thief managed to snipe the bait:
This is an indoor video capture that was initiated not by actual movement by an on-screen object, but by background shadows. Nonetheless, a subject does walk into the scene:
This is another indoor capture:
This shows results of setting up the camera pointed out a front window. The camera must shoot through the screen and window pane. It shows visitors arriving (though none of them left obnoxious fliers). It also shows cars in the background and trees swaying in the wind:
The SiFor SDV03: It takes a tipping and keeps on filming !
Note: This product does not advertise the fact that it can record audio because the feature is glitchy…