Showing posts with label wireless. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wireless. Show all posts

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Foscam AC Adapter Teardown

I still own a couple of Foscam wireless IP cameras. 

I'm done with that brand in favor of Amcrest (sort of a spinoff of Foscam with far superior design and usability aside from the marginally unusable mobile app), but I believe firmly in using a product up to and beyond its predicted life span if it's able. Up until just weeks ago they were performing satisfactorily, then I stopped receiving motion detection alerts from first one, then the other. Could've been a power surge, though the UPS I have my desktop PC hooked into reported no recent events.

Both had curiously similar symptoms. The older camera, an FI8918W, presented with its ring of infra-red (IR) LEDs all blinking simultaneously, with a red indicator LED in the rear constantly flashing and a faint clicking in time with them. The newer one, an FI9821W, didn't have any IR LED activity, just the flashing indicator LED and clicking.

I happened to have a nonfunctional unit of the latter in my closet at home and decided, after some research on Foscam's forums, to simply try swapping the AC adapter. That worked; the camera came back to life and began happily firing off motion alerts.

It would appear that in addition to various other problems with Foscam cameras, the FI9821W in particular, we can add AC adapter failure to the list. Out of curiosity I took the seemingly defective one and tore it down for inspection.

Foscam FI9821W AC adapter with label indicating specifications.

The top of the circuit board showed no obvious signs of failure; no scorch marks, no bulging or burst electrolytic capacitors (see here for more details), no melted or burnt electronics.

Cover removed to reveal the top of the circuit board and components.

The bottom of the circuit board revealed some clues. Multiple areas show telltale signs of melted solder flux, which could indicate overheating. Given that the camera expects a fairly consistent, specific voltage and current, overheating of the AC adapter components over extended periods could've bumped its output outside the tolerances the camera requires to operate normally.

Bottom of the circuit board. Note areas of solder flux showing evidence of possible overheating.

On the brighter side, replacement Foscam AC adapters are inexpensive and available online. If your Foscam wireless IP camera happens to die suddenly and exhibit some of the signs indicated previously, try swapping out its AC adapter and you might have a quick and easy fix. If you're feeling adventurous, it might be worth it to carefully drill some holes in the AC adapter casing to allow for airflow; in operation the AC adapter is quite warm to the touch.

A better long-term fix might be to invest in an Amcrest camera, given its better web UI usability, night vision, and better HD resolution, at least in the one unit I've had set up for a couple of months now.

One wonders if someone more business-savvy among Foscam's leadership actually wanted to invest time and energy into creating a camera that would actually deliver on features, usability, and quality in the form of Amcrest. So far my experience with it has been far superior to my trials and tribulations with Foscam, but we shall see.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Logitech k400 Wireless Touch Keyboard Review

As many "smart TV" owners know, "typing" with your TV remote control can be a hassle at best, a pain at worst. Fortunately, there are alternatives when you want to access your TV like you would a PC. 

One is a smartphone app, such as this unofficial one for use with Samsung TVs. Another, especially handy if you don't use a smartphone, is the Logitech k400 keyboard.

Logitech k400 Keyboard

The keyboard has smallish keys and is nearly full-size, but may be a bit irritating for those with fat fingers. The package includes a small transceiver which plugs into a free USB port on your smart TV, as well as a USB range extender smaller than many USB flash drives. 

Samsung, manufacturer of my particular smart TV, "...does not guarantee compatibility with all devices..." (source), but freely list their very own keyboard as wholly compatible, which is convenient for them. However, at least for my Samsung UN46EH5300, this particular keyboard worked out of the box for me.

The keyboard itself uses two AA batteries, and the transceiver runs off the TV's USB power. For your Samsung TV, a button with a right-mouse-button icon will, assuming you're viewing a TV channel, pop up a menu which lets you open Samsung's trademark on-screen menu. From there you can open YouTube and various other online services, and thereafter type URLs in as desired.

So far, my only complaint is that as far as Samsung's built-in web browser goes, you're stuck with ads (which might otherwise be blocked on your PC with the AdBlock Plus browser add-on or other means), and the browser itself for the few sessions I've opened with it so far has frequently crashed.

This does not impugn my impression of the Logitech k400 itself, though; it seems to do exactly what I expect it to do, enable both keyboard and mouse control of my smart TV.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Sony SMP-N200 Streaming Media Player Review

This marks the 1-year anniversary since ditching DirecTV for the Sony SMP-N200 streaming media player.

The device features HDMI, optical, and RCA jacks, as well as an ethernet port.

So far, the experience has been great! Rather than paying around $900 a year for satellite, I'm paying just what I'd been paying before for internet, around $40 monthly, a decent compromise.

The interface of the player is very similar to that of Sony's Bravia series of TVs. 

The remote enables navigation to the various options and settings. A great thing about this little black box is that you can browse the web, grabbing either streaming video from YouTube and elsewhere, or just general browsing. However, one trick is to use a smartphone app, Sony Media Remote, so that you gain the benefit of a keyboard; trying to "type" using the Sony's remote is an exercise in aggravation, to say the least.

For over-the-air TV, a Winegard antenna hung up near the ceiling of the living room plus a signal amplifier has managed to pull in 8 stations, six broadcast in my immediate area, and two more from towers about 40 miles away.

With the Sony SMP-N200 I can also stream downloaded video over my home's wireless network. To do this, I first needed to enable Homegroup on my Windows 7 desktop PC, and then I installed Nero MediaHome to act as a server for the Sony. Most any popular encoding format (AVI, MPG, MKV, WMV, and more) can stream from my computer to my TV with very little effort.

All in all, aside from the clunky remote, I'd give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars for the money I've saved thus far over cable or satellite.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Foscam FI9821 Wireless Workaround

In my abortive attempt to review the Foscam FI9821, I mentioned the complete inability for the camera to find let alone connect to mine nor any wireless networks in my neighborhood. This precluded my ability (and desire) to review the camera any further.

Now, however, the camera sees and connects successfully to my wireless network. 

After my issues with the late Foscam FI9820 with its poor daytime image quality and anemic firmware, I already experienced RMA hell and didn't want to go through it again. Thus, being handy with electronics, I decided to try an off the wall suggestion found in Foscam's support forum.

Note that the following steps may VOID the manufacturer warranty.

1. Power off the FI9821 and disconnect all cables.

2. Remove the rubber feet on the underside of the camera, this should reveal a couple of screws. Remove them. There are also two screws located on the underside beneath one round laser QA label and another beneath a round paper label. Remove the labels and then the screws as well.

3. Carefully remove the bottom of the camera and follow the wire that runs from behind where the antenna screws in to the camera to a metal "post" on the circuitboard, similar to the one depicted here:

4. Remove the connector, then reconnect it, and as you do so wiggle it, just a little bit.

5. Reverse the steps above and reassemble the camera.

6. Connect the power and ethernet cables, and proceed to configure the camera to connect to your wireless network if you haven't already. Be sure to save the settings!

7. From the camera's web interface, on the Wireless Settings screen click the Scan button. Your wireless network should appear similarly as shown below:

8. Unplug the ethernet cable and wait a minute or so, then try browsing to the camera's IP address. With luck, the camera will have switched to wireless mode and you should then be connected wirelessly, at last!

Why does this work?? It could be due to insulation which is sometimes used to coat electronics, such as that used to coat thin wire that's used for coils. Perhaps in the manufacturing process, the post got sprayed with insulation by accident, leading to a poor connection with the antenna wire connector. Wiggling the connector around on the post may've scraped away any insulation, leading to a solid connection.

Regardless, releasing a $150+ camera so hurriedly with a problem like this, one that some simple quality assurance practices could've caught and fixed, is ridiculous. Although again I applaud Foscam for their responsive customer service and providing me with a free upgrade to the newest model of their camera, shame on them for not catching this frustrating little glitch!

I will review the camera in earnest in the near future, now that its wireless connectivity, a core feature in my eyes, is operational at last.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Foscam FI9820W Review

I recently purchased a pair of Foscam FI9820W wireless IP cameras to augment my existing pair of FI8918W ones.

Featuring 720p video resolution, H.264 video compression, pan and tilt capability, SD card support, and IR cut to help filter out distortion in the camera's daytime mode, wireless IP cameras like these are very handy because they can be placed anywhere within the reach of your wireless network and a household power outlet, and transmit images and even live video wirelessly. 

In addition, if a burglar happens to break in and swipe or disable the cameras themselves, there's a fair chance that before this happens, the camera will have gotten a nice face shot of the perpetrator discovering the camera, and then send it via email or FTP if configured to do so, for you to later submit to the police.

This newest, more expensive camera in Foscam's lineup unfortunately suffers some significant shortcomings. Compared to the more mature FI8918W model, the web interface is still disappointingly ugly and Internet Explorer-centric, utilizing an ActiveX control to render live video in a browser and a few hoops need to be jumped through to get the interface functional in a more mainstream browser like Firefox or Chrome.

As if that were bad enough, a serious security issue arises with the FI9820W's lack of full WPA / WPA2 passphrase support. If your wireless network happens to be protected with one of these security protocols and uses anything other than an alphanumeric passphrase, you'll have no choice but to compromise your wireless security by making your password simpler to accommodate this camera.

Although the picture quality is outstanding in the camera's grayscale night vision mode with all its H.264 sharpness, the daytime mode leaves much to be desired. Even in a well-lit room the image appears blurry and washed out in spite of the included IR cut feature.

Night vision engaged, the image is relatively sharp and clear.

Another downside, whereas with the FI8918W you could set up its motion detection to optionally take a variable number of snapshots, the FI9820W allows no more than a single snapshot per activation of the motion alarm. Add to that the fact that the camera shares the similarly short AC adapter cable as its predecessor, there isn't a lot to make this camera in its current form worth the higher cost.
Daytime, even with IR cut the image is disappointingly grainy and washed out.

To summarize...
  • High video resolution.
  • Sharp night vision.
  • SD card support.
  • Nonstandard WPA / WPA2 passphrase support.
  • Grainy, washed-out daytime video.
  • Internet Explorer centered, 1990s-era web interface.
  • Short AC adapter cable.

I contacted Foscam's U.S. based technical support about the camera's disappointing features and anemic firmware, who responded to my inquiry on the FI9820W's shortcomings:
"Your suggestions will forward to our R&D team, we'll try to fain [sic] these features in the future software. Highly appreciated your feedbacks. Thanks a lot."

Let's hope they will!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Windows 7 to XP FIle Sharing Problems

Recently, I had serious issues with trying to enable file sharing between my newly-installed Windows 7 laptop and my Windows XP SP3 desktop.

Windows 7's Network and Sharing Center

I have a home wireless network, where my Windows 7 laptop, on wireless, normally shares files perfectly well with my Windows XP desktop. Inexplicably, one day the capability to share files via wireless ended; I couldn't even ping my XP desktop from my 7 laptop let alone browse its file shares, whether by computer name or IP address. And yet, over a wired connection, file sharing performed flawlessly!

Here's a list of what I tried:
  • Updated drivers for network hardware.
  • Disabled Windows Firewall on both machines.
  • Verified internet connectivity from the laptop.
  • Ensured both PCs share the same workgroup name.
  • Verified connectivity over wireless, from the laptop to the router.
  • Completely reinstalled the TCP/IP stack on the Windows XP computer.
  • Deleted and recreated routes using the ROUTE command on both computers.
  • Reinstalled the Link Layer Topology Discovery (LLTD) responder on the XP box. 
  • Followed Microsoft's docs on enabling File and Printer Sharing under Windows 7.
  • Verified that shared folders on both PCs had proper permissions.
  • Removed remnants of Norton Internet Security with the Norton Removal Tool from the XP box, which I'd long since uninstalled but remnants of which still remained.
  • Followed Microsoft's steps for sharing files among different Windows versions, including rerunning the network setup wizards for each respective operating system.

In spite of all these steps, I still couldn't even ping the XP box from the 7 laptop, and I couldn't see the XP box from the 7 laptop in the network, although I could see, but not access, the 7 laptop from the XP box.

The solution turned out to be unexpected.

A few years ago, I replaced the factory firmware of my venerable Buffalo WHR-HP-G54 wireless router with DD-WRT, a free, open-source, Linux-based firmware which can be applied as a drop-in replacement for the manufacturer firmware, and can expand the features of your router to boot.

The firmware, as with most anything in IT, is evolving, and it'd been some months since I'd last updated the version of DD-WRT; it was v24 SP1 from around August, 2010, whereas the newest version is v24 pre-SP2. Some other DD-WRT users had reported issues sharing files on their own networks. DD-WRT itself has an option under Wireless => Advanced Settings called AP Isolation, which allows you to prevent wirelessly networked devices from interacting with one another, and presumably with wired clients, via the router (in my case, this option has always been disabled).

At this point, my options were exhausted, so I took the plunge and updated the DD-WRT firmware. Even though the latest version is technically still in beta, it seemed worth a shot; I've never had trouble since first installing DD-WRT, and the fact that it allows you to preserve your existing settings without wiping the router's NVRAM made it even more appealing.

The result? It worked! Suddenly, rather than being met with the dreaded System Error 53 when attempting to map a network drive letter from the laptop to the desktop or trying to browse to a shared folder via Windows Explorer, I got a prompt asking me to authenticate to the XP box using my credentials, and finally regained access!

If you haven't updated your router's firmware in a while, it might be worth a shot, particularly if you use DD-WRT as I do and have perhaps encountered what might be a bug in your current version of the firmware. 

If you still have the factory firmware, I'd strongly suggest you consider replacing it with DD-WRT or another like Tomato, which can not only offer your router and network more stability and performance, but also unlock features that the manufacturer might not even offer in their own relatively anemic firmware. 

Saturday, May 30, 2009

No Internet After Installing Vista SP2

I'd just noticed Vista service pack 2 had become available via Automatic Updates, and decided to take the plunge and update my Lenovo N100 laptop.

Upon rebooting, I was able to connect to other XP machines on my LAN, but not the internet.

I found a helpful newsgroup post where some other users described similar woes following the update, including links to a variety of workarounds for a variety of situations. My laptop connects to the router with a static IP, so cases where DHCP mysteriously failed to acquire an address didn't apply to me. I also don't keep my router on a different subnet, so another possibility gone.

Fortunately, in my case I was just able to uninstall my wireless network adapter, in this case a Broadcom BCM43XG, and have Vista reinstall it.

  1. Open Device Manager by holding the Windows key and then hitting the Pause key, then clicking the Device Manager link in the upper left corner of the Control Panel => System screen. Alternatively, you can open it using one of the methods outlined here.

  2. Expand the Network Adapters category in the device list, and then right-click on your wireless network adapter (in my case, its display name is listed as "Broadcom 802.11 Network Adapter"), click Uninstall, and then click OK to confirm. If prompted to remove the device driver associated with the network adapter, do not do so. In this case Vista is the problem, not the device driver.

  3. Right-click the entry at the very top of the device list (indicated by your computer's name) and click "Scan for hardware changes". Vista will find and reconfigure the wireless network adapter and should shortly inform you that it's ready for action.

  4. Use either Vista's built-in wireless network management tools, or a third-party utility (in my case, ThinkVantage Access Connections 5), to reconfigure your wireless connection properties (if you aren't already using a wireless security protocol like WPA, I strongly suggest you implement it).

Given the myriad of notebook and wireless configurations out there, it's not at all surprising that a given configuration will not emerge completely intact from a typical Windows service pack install.

In this case, I think that whatever particulars about the configuration of my wireless network adapter, which incidentally has remained much the same since before Vista service pack 1, introduced a monkey wrench which shot out my adapter's knees under service pack 2.

By uninstalling the adapter and then reinstalling it under the updated "device bureaucracy" of Vista service pack 2, this allowed Vista and the adapter to happily coexist once more.