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TechnologyTell Review: Flir FX wireless HD video camera

Sections: Internet of Things, Reviews, Security, Smart Home, Streaming, Video

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This is Flir’s first true consumer product. And considering the quality of things Flir, the expectations are running a little high. Did they stick the landing, or is this first foray a flub? Read on and find out!

Design & Installation

The Flir FX WiFi 1080p HD video monitoring security camera shows that much thought went into the overall design. The camera part, which is in the shape of a giant Starburst with slightly-rounded corners, detaches from the base. Part of Flir’s plan with the Flir FX revolves around providing additional accessories to enable the camera to do more outside of the home. But more on that later.

Flir FX WiFi HD camera box

Extra adapters – very thoughtful

Turning the Flir FX camera on requires a single press; you need to press-hold to turn it off, which is good against accidental bumps. On the top is a manual record button which lights up when active. And other than the micro USB charge port and microSD card slot on the side, there isn’t much else to poke at. Although there are no vents, the Flir FX camera doesn’t run hot. Even when you’ve left it to manually record video.

The rear of the camera has LED indicators for network and cloud connectivity. Both a speaker and microphone are built in, hidden under small holes on the front face. What isn’t so evident at first is that both the Flir FX camera and its base pack internal batteries. The camera can operate for up to 2 hours itself, and the base adds on another 2 hours. That’s 4 hours of completely uncabled fun! This is the standout feature, since most home monitoring cameras turn off as soon as cables unplug.

Flir FX WiFi HD camera hand

The basic camera itself is small

As intended, this also means you can take the Flir FX camera with you and manually record video at 1080p. A microSD card comes included, and all manually-recorded video gets stored on there. Versatile? I think so. The lens covers a wide-angle 160 degree field of view, and it does so without that ‘fishbowl’ warping around the edges.

In addition to sending push notifications for motion and/or sound triggers, the Flir FX can monitor temperature and humidity. Those sensors are packed into the base, which lets this camera do triple & quadruple duty for keeping sentinel over the home. Keep in mind that these sensors are in the base, active only while the camera unit is attached. Other base attachments (separate accessories) will provide different sensors and/or abilities.

The package contains everything needed – camera, base, cable, wall mount, – including some non-US adapters for the wall charger. Very nice. In terms of installation and set up, once just needs to download the Flir FX app and follow the instructions. It’s a very quick and easy process.

Flir FX App (Android)

For being a new app, the Flir FX is pretty good. Sure, there are many elements that can use some improvement, but it’s not as rough around the edges as one might expect. Mostly. Aside from a few snags, the Flir FX app delivers a useful experience. It has enough configuration options to make most people happy. But a little reorganization, feature improvements, and streamlining wouldn’t hurt. But these are all things the app team is aware of and working on.

Flir FX WiFi HD camera microSD USB

These let you charge and record on the go

You can skip any paper instructions (not much use included anyway) since the Flir FX app guides you through the installation and setup process. It’s made easy with the QR code at the bottom of the indoor camera stand (there is a manual option, too).

Name it, set a sharing password, point it to your home network (and provide that password), and then you’re all set up for video streaming. What’s missing any option or mention is security and encryption; it’s a critical area that all these connected devices are going to have to address.

The app’s landing page shows all of the connected Flir FX cameras; you can have more than one. Each camera shows a still image of recently-live footage along with the camera name, battery level, and connection status (on/off and if it’s mobile or powered via cable). There is also a drop-down menu in the top right corner that lets you jump directly to Rapid Recap, video recordings, and the toggle for notifications. That last one is important, because it can be easily missed. It’s also just a toggle, too, and does not provide choice of SMS, push notifications, or email or such (at least for now).

Once you click a camera, you’re presented with a live feed and options to play with. The ‘actions’ button below leads you to Rapid Recap, two-way communication, sending/saving a snapshot, and changing settings. The ‘recording’ button simply toggles motion and/or sound recording. You have to go into the actual settings to change the sensitivity levels.

Flir FX WiFi HD camera base

Detachable base charges separately, too

A single tap on the video feed pops up the current humidity and temperature levels. It’s not that accurate, with the humidity being off by 2-3 percent and temperature off by 4-9 degrees F (usually on the warmer side of ambient). I’m assuming the camera’s heat is influencing the readings.

Above the live feed video is an icon to access recordings and another to access settings. All of these clickable options disappear when you orient your mobile device into landscape mode for better viewing. Hopefully an update to the app provides interaction while in landscape mode; two-way communication and manual recording would be keen. And maybe getting rid of one of the two settings gear icons would help cut out redundancy (they both lead to the same place), too. For the most part, the Flir FX app keeps the options lean and clean.

The Flir FX app sets up the motion monitoring area differently from most the competitors. Instead of a simple, adjustable rectangle (or more for higher-performing monitoring camera apps), you have a SmartZone grid of individually-selectable squares. Poke/swipe and ‘blue out’ squares to remove those areas from being watched. This method allows more precision, which helps cut down on false triggers. I wouldn’t mind the grid to be more dense for even finer control.

Flir FX WiFi HD camera base connect

Just slide and click

Under the camera settings is where you can change the camera name, camera password, recording trigger sensitivities, night vision (on/off), time zone, video quality (standard or high definition), and camera connection (WiFi network and mode). All the useful stuff. The interface design uses simple graphics along with words (but no in-depth descriptions) and sectioning to keep it easy to understand and use. The glowing highlight for active elements is a nice touch.

At the bottom of this settings menu are options to reboot, factory reset, and remove the camera. Not commonly used. But right in the middle – beneath triggers and above night vision options – is a bar for the microSD card. It shows the amount of free space available for recordings. The Flir FX app doesn’t really explain the how and what of this, or any question related to “where is all my video stored?

The micro SD card that inserts into the side of the Flir FX camera keeps only manual recordings and snapshots. And by manual, I mean through the physical recording button at the top of the actual camera. And those manually-recorded videos are 1080p. All the automatically recorded video from motion/sound triggers, which  is stored in the Flir FX cloud, is only 720p. So the upside is that all recorded video won’t eat up space on the SD card. The downside is that it takes longer to load and replay video when you’re out of the house and on 4G (3G works, but way way slower).

Flir FX WiFi HD camera recording hand

Bring it wherever you want

In the settings menu, the camera connection option lets you switch between Flir Cloud and Direct Mode. Use the Flir Cloud when the camera is at home, so it can connect to your home network and record events like a typical security camera. Use the Direct Mode when you’re taking the Flir FX camera with you outside of the house.

This can be in the car as a dash cam (dash mount accessory sold separately), or mounted on you as a sports/action cam. With Direct Mode, your device connects directly to the Flir FX camera (within 500 feet the box says, though my testing has maintained 143 feet so far) so you can watch the live feed as well as replay recorded video when you’re away from civilization (or at least any usable wireless network).

Automatic recording is disabled in Direct Mode, which means you can’t use the Flir FX camera for your campsite security with motion/sound triggers. Although you could just leave the manual recording on for a similar result. Sort of. Continual battery power would be one limitation. It would be nice for the Flir FX app to provide an in-app button for manual recording in both cloud and direct modes. This way, users could capture a no-limit video clip in cloud mode, and recording can be activated remotely in direct mode (e.g. you have the camera mounted somewhere out of reach to capture specific video events live).

Other than the available space on the microSD card, manual recordings have no limit to the length of video. However, automatic recordings cap out at 1 minute and 30 seconds, and all of the clips show an icon indicating the trigger type (motion, sound, etc). Some video clips will be shorter, yes, but none will exceed a minute and a half. But if you have constant triggers, you’ll get video clips back to back to back.

Flir FX WiFi HD camera app menu

App recording triggers menu (screenshot)

All of these can be downloaded/exported via email, social media, cloud storage (e.g. Drive, Dropbox), and video editing apps. You can’t save video to the mobile device directly, although you can send it to an editing app and then save through that. Other than being able to export and view clips, the only other action you can take is to delete them.

One difficulty with sorting through the list of video clips in the Flir FX app is that it’s a vertical list. All you can do is scroll until you find what you want, and the app has to continually load new videos as you scroll (this part seriously tests patience). It’s pretty clunky. There is no calendar to choose a specific day, no clock to start at a specific time to start looking, and you can’t sort the list for specific trigger types either. But the Rapid Recap feature does help out with catching up on hours worth of events in mere minutes. Watch the thing through and you’ll see all the important action simultaneously, sort of like a phantom overlay as images cross over each other.

Rapid Recap processes up to 6 (basic cloud account) continuous hours of recorded clips and creates ‘chapters’ that you can view. Each chapter consists of snippets from fully recorded video clips that have parts played on top of each other. It usually highlights motion activity, following those elements with a timestamp, and you can have a handful of them going on all at the same time. If something stands out, you can click on the full video section listed below in the chapter to see things as they fully happened. Then, of course, that video can be saved/exported. It’s pretty neat, and it’ll be interesting to see how it gets improved with future app updates.

The sensitivity levels for motion and sound detection also lean toward ultra-basic: low, medium, and high. While it may seem a little too simple, I think it makes it easier. With three options, just start in the middle and then adjust up or down depending on how you like the results. I can tell you right now that more levels leads to analysis paralysis and over-testing. Besides, a good deal of false triggers are eliminated by the Flir FX SmartZone grid for detecting motion. In addition to sound and motion, this camera lets you set a range to monitor temperature and humidity.

Flir FX Camera Performance

As soon as you have the Flir FX camera set up and streaming, you’ll notice how bright and colorful the video feed is. This device’s HDR video does indeed make images easier to see under dark shadows or glaring sunlight. Better than others. Images appear brighter in the video than they do when using your naked eyes. Usually. You’ll get the best results when the area in the camera’s field of view is evenly-lit without any ‘hot’ spots, especially ones too close to the center. The 160 degree wide-angle lens is also a big plus for more coverage with a single camera.

Flir FX WiFi HD camera app grid

Motion detection areas (screenshot) – blue is ignored

When there is a bright source of light, the Flir FX camera automatically adjusts so the image isn’t completely washed out. But this tends to make shadows a bit darker, which really only affects how clearly you can see objects beyond 5 meters. It depends a lot on location and the area under surveillance. Either way, the camera resolves the image quickly, so you can see how it keeps up with changes in lighting as sunlight passes through clouds or swaying tree branches.

The video resolution is sharp with fine edge details, especially if you have the camera set up to oversee close objects. Like something the size of living room or 4-car garage. The Flir FX can see well beyond 10 meters with good lighting, providing an excellent depth of view. Not only do you get a fantastic image, but the colors seen are very accurate. The Flir FX doesn’t treat colors (e.g. green, brown, red, orange) as a form of purple, like many surveillance cameras with weak sensors do. This camera does a great job at maintaining true hues, tints, and tones; shades come out a little darker than normal, but this is also related to overall lighting.

Flir FX WiFi HD camera screenshot

Great detail and color with minimal lens warping (screenshot)

Motion is captured smoothly enough with minimal aliasing (jagged edges). The only times the image quality suffers (pixelation) some is when there is some constant/periodic motion and/or changes in lighting and/or big/nearby objects passing quickly through the field of view. Swaying branches and shifting shadows add a temporary grain, but it’s limited to those areas with movement. Everything else seen by the Flir FX camera remains unaffected. More or less. Not only that, but this camera does an admirable job at maintaining a watchable framerate. There is no blur or sense that the video is skipping out on details simply to try and keep up. The Flir FX does a great job at reproducing streaming motion.

One thing to keep in mind about image pixelation is that you’re only going to see it while streaming. The actual video is sharp and refined – the Flir FX is packing the hardware to deliver 1080p at 30 frames per second. So if you’re holding both the Flir FX and your mobile device in your hands, hit the manual record button, and then run & jump around like a lunatic, you’ll notice some pretty crappy, real-time video streaming on the smartphone. But when you replay that manually-recorded video, it will show up perfectly clear and colorful. Have some patience, too, since it’s going to take a bit to buffer before playing (e.g. 68 seconds up front and then another 32 seconds in the middle for a simple 18-second manual-record video clip).

Flir FX WiFi HD camera night vision

Night vision (screenshot) – slightly hot center but pretty great overall

Or, if you want a valid reason to add another simple, inexpensive, yet powerful gadget to your arsenal, just get the Inateck Mini MicroSD Card Reader & OTG Adapter. Want to review a full day’s manually-recorded video? Pop the microSD card out of the camera, into the Inateck adapter, and then play the files straight on your mobile device or laptop. Done.

There is about a 5-second delay from the time something happens to when you can see it live through the Flir FX app. Few other monitoring cameras are faster, having half (or less) of a delay. Most share a similar delay time, even though they may not be passing video through an intermediary cloud like Flir does. Automatically-recorded video clips become available within 30 seconds (or so) from the end of the recording. So if the Flir FX captured movement at 10:00am, recorded for 90 seconds, you will be able to review that footage at about 10:02am. Not bad.

Flir FX WiFi HD camera rooster

Flir FX and pepper-rooster stand sentinel

As an intercom, the Flir FX camera is perfectly usable. The built-in speaker is surprisingly loud, considering the teeny hole sound comes out through. Anyone in the same room (or within 4-6 meters) will hear it easily. The quality of voice coming out of the camera isn’t the best – it’s a touch scratchy, but that’s about it. Basic. If everyone speaks clearly, communication is just peachy. The delay is the same as with video, about five seconds.

This camera has some sharp detection abilities. The grid boundaries are firm, meaning that an object can’t venture too far into the motion detection area before being noticed. At the high setting, the Flir FX picks up movement almost down to the pixel level. If it can see the gentle sway of a darker shadow (a leaf from the tree outside) in the shadow of an indoor object (an office chair by the table), you’re not going to be able to tiptoe-sneak past its field of view (tried and failed with pens and blocks).

The low setting for motion sensing is far more forgiving when it comes to breezes blowing around outdoor objects, but it’s still quite sensitive. Some might say too much. Although the camera’s ability to identify movement decreases with distance, I’ve found that the Flir FX can see well past 20 meters (both outdoor and indoor with ample light, max sensitivity). While it can’t catch a butterfly flitting about, or a Nerf dart being fired horizontally, it will notice a tennis ball dropped from a hand at that distance.

Despite the Flir FX camera’s power, it has trouble with dark environments prior to the infrared kicking in. This can mean sundown, when there are no lights on in the home, or it can happen in the middle of the day during a cloudy-black thunderstorm. Most all cameras of this type suffer the same, but the Flir FX handles it a little better. But once it’s dark enough for night-vision, the results improve. The IR emitters on the camera itself can be seen, but they’re subtle. They’re also angled out for an even spread, which minimizes that ‘hotspot’ effect when you’re watching the live feed; the very edges of the video are only a touch darker compared to the middle. However, the overall contrast and detail are excellent, and it’s almost as easy to identify objects at night as during the day.

Subscription Service

Many home monitoring cameras have a form of upgraded account that provides more and/or better features. What I like about the Flir FX experience is that users can choose to stick with the on-board and basic cloud storage without missing out. The only limit to the basic account is that videos stored in the cloud are no longer available to view after 48 hours after being recorded. And you only get three Rapid Recaps a month, each of which are capped at 6 hours.

Those who want more can opt for the Plus or Premium accounts, which provide 7- and 30-day storage and unlimited 8- and 12-hour Recaps, respectively. It really bugs me when you feel coerced into paying for a subscription to get the most out of a home monitoring camera. Especially when it comes to allowing users to record and review video. Flir provides everything for free right out of the box, and the paid subscriptions offer more for a fair price. The company gets a definite win in this department.

Verdict

Although the Flir FX WiFi 1080p HD video monitoring security camera costs more than many popular (probably unpopular, too) home monitoring cameras, you’re going to get far more mileage out of it. This is a compact video camera with excellent video quality and color reproduction. All users benefit from onboard storage as well as free cloud recording/playback service. Although the Flir FX app could use a few tweaks to improve the experience, it’s a pretty solid interface as-is. The navigation is clean, open, and menu options aren’t deep or hidden.

But the Flir FX can do a few things that other cameras can’t. Namely, mobility. That internal battery is killer, and the accessories make it even better. The dash mount (sold separately) transforms a home camera into a dashcam. If you want outdoor surveillance, the Flir FX stays covered and protected with the outdoor housing cover (also sold separately). Fancy that you have some extreme tricks to perform? The sport case (yes, also sold separately) lets the Flir FX be worn as an action cam. Nothing else out there shares this same type of utility.

Now, there are some kinks with the Flir FX app that the dev team is aware of and working on, like taking care of all the extra video files shown, providing options while a mobile device is in landscape mode, and probably implementing a browser interface. We can also expect to see some added features and improvements in the near future such as (not fully guaranteed nor confirmed): encryption, an in-app button for manual recording, a finer/smaller motion-sensor grid, a better interface to sort through and review clips, better cloud implementation and file saving/sharing, and an option for either 720p or 1080p video (instead of 720p for auto and 1080p for manual), to name a few.

Overall, I’m impressed with the size, power, and versatility of this camera. Sure, the company probably would have done (a lot) better to delay the product launch until after some app elements had been fixed (or at least a longer beta-testing process). But it’s already out, so you might as well get it and enjoy everything it has to offer. Be sure to let them know what can be improved (within reason), just to reinforce suggestions to improve future app revisions.

 

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  • JEng

    The temperature monitoring which I have not tried out yet but it is attractive especially if you need to prove your honesty in providing heat to tenants but be warned you need multiples of this camera because sometimes it self-ejects the memory card which would be fatal if a hard copy of documentation is important to you even though it does the remote recording and monitoring that they all do these days.

    Buy multiples.

    • JEng

      and when it self ejects the memory card for no reason, it makes a SERIES of chirping noises. :)

      but then it records a-okay after you stick it back in – it’s just very … telekinetic.