Panasonic HomeHawk window
"The Homehawk window offers amazing color night vision without the need for a headlight."
Easy to install
Easy to move
Amazing color night vision
Motion tracking in recorded videos
The app is terrible
Night shots are grainy
Videos are stuck on the memory card
There is no shortage of security cameras on the market today. I've seen a lot of them. If a camera surprises me, I notice it. The Panasonic Homehawk Window is one such camera, and it's a three year project.
On its surface, the HomeHawk window is a surveillance camera mounted on the window. Not a big surprise. Cameras like the Logitech Circle 2 have been doing this for years. The standout feature of the Homehawk window is its night vision capabilities. The 150 degree camera has a proprietary sensor that delivers color night vision at just 0.2 lux. This is really impressive, so I wanted to find out how they did it.
HomeHawk engineers had to overcome two major obstacles to deliver a window-mounted camera with night vision capabilities. The first was to design the case so that the sensor is protected from reflections inside the house. Most exterior windows are double panes, so there is a pane of glass on the inside and one on the outside with an air cushion in between. It's easy to block reflections inside, but the outside is more problematic. The 16: 9 aspect ratio of the camera body matches the ratio of the sensor, so the body blocks most of the reflection.
The second problem occurs in the form of color night vision. The Arlo Pro 3 has colored night vision, but only because of the built-in floodlights. Most cameras use an infrared light and a sensor to provide a black and white image. The problem with IR with window-mounted cameras is that the glass causes a lot of glare in the image, which interferes with night vision. HomeHawk engineers have consulted with other departments at Panasonic, namely Lumix engineers and Panasonic's professional security department, to find out how to overcome this obstacle. The result was a proprietary, highly sensitive, high dynamic range CMOS sensor.
Night mode like with smartphones
The result is astonishingly good. The easiest way to describe it is to compare it to something like Night Sight on a Pixel phone. The difference is that Night Sight uses a series of long exposures made with A.I. to deliver a brightly lit scene. The HomeHawk delivers this with real-time video. If that sounds wild, it's because it is.
You can see three pictures below. The first is taken with a Pixel 4a with the night vision device turned on. It took about 30 seconds to get this shot, which is why it looks like a strange panda monster with a ponytail for its face. The second is recorded with an LG V60 with night mode turned on. It's less great. The third is a still image from the HomeHawk window. The fact is that even at 4 a.m. the picture is always so bright that no loss of detail occurs during the day either.
Pixel 4a (night vision)
LG V60 (night mode)
The video is not perfect. At night the resolution is quite low and pixelated. You can still see enough detail to identify people, especially when they're close enough to the camera to actually pose a threat to your home. During the day that's no problem at all. The video is crisp and clear.
I would also like to see Panasonic do something about the fish-eye effect. A camera like the Vivint Outdoor Camera Pro has a wider field of view with a less pronounced fish-eye look. Overall, though, it's a pretty good compromise considering how good night vision is.
The easiest way to describe it is to compare it to something like Night Sight on a Pixel phone.
The HomeHawk window comes with the camera itself and includes detailed assembly instructions for temporary and permanent fixtures, power cords and hooks for cable management. Thoroughly clean your window. To attach the camera to your window, remove the film from the suction mount, place it firmly against the window and pull the lever to activate the suction. That's it. Plug in the cable, insert a microSD card (up to 32GB) if you want to record, then attach the back plate.
The camera is firmly in place after assembly. An LED on the back indicates that the power is on and glows red while recording is in progress. There is a fan in the camera that can be heard when you are near the camera, but it is not distracting. That covers the hardware.
A disorganized app
Unfortunately I have to tell you something about the app now. It's not great, but there are some highlights. You have a lot of control over when your camera records an event, be it motion, people only, or 24/7 recording. When you record new footage, old footage is discarded. According to Panasonic, 32GB of storage will give you around 10 days of footage.
However, it is difficult to tell the camera when to record automatically. The first time you enter the app, you'll see a "Basic" icon at the top that doesn't tell you what it is. I ignored it for the first few days. I accidentally tapped it once and suddenly I was able to configure which mode the camera should go into, which in turn defines what is being recorded. As you can imagine, this was a turning point.
On the surface, it's a good idea to have presets that determine when the camera records video. However, the user interface is not at all intuitive. I came across this literally by accident. However, automatic recording of events is essential as that is all the camera will do. It can be set to record 24/7, but that's also hidden behind that button that I didn't know was a button.
The Home Hawk does not have a personal or other cloud storage subscription. What you get on the memory card, you get, and that's fine. However, there is no way to move a video to your phone. You can take snapshots that will be saved in your photo album. However, videos remain on the memory card. This is a very basic function and it seems like a missed opportunity.
Navigating between pages in the app is slow and often results in a loading animation. The app also has some organizational problems. For example, you can access camera settings using several different paths. Overall, the app is honestly just a weird experience that seems to be thrown together at the last minute.
The app has a few highlights, however. You can stream live footage from the camera. that is easily accessible. And you can access the live stream and recordings through the app when you are not at home to catch up on things. The videos you have recorded can be organized by the hour they were recorded. You can filter your recordings by motion, person or manual recordings. As the footage plays, the app will show you what has moved by drawing a blue box around it. This is smart and will let you know what to look out for.
There are tons of other software features, including a network strength indicator, which I found a nice touch. A common occurrence is that you place a camera and only later discover that the WiFi coverage is not good enough. You can also set limits and sensitivity for motion detection. Finally, the HomeHawk window integrates with the Google Assistant and Alexa, which is always a win in my book.
Overall, this is an impressive first attempt at creating a window-filling camera with really good night vision. Panasonic has to do with the app and the resolution of the camera at night, but I don't think that colored night vision is a party trick. I see it as a halo feature that other manufacturers should honestly strive for. At $ 150, the camera is on the lower end of the mid-range price range. This is very bad.
Is there a better alternative?
Are there better cameras? For sure. The Ring Spotlight Cam gives a much better picture at night, but this color video requires a spotlight. Overall, the industry seems to have decided that a spotlight or black and white is good enough for the night, and I can't say I disagree at all. In addition, both work in total darkness. If you are good at these solutions, there are a variety of good alternatives.
How long it will take?
The camera comes with short and long term assembly instructions. The app also contains a maintenance notification that can be sent to your phone to reset the camera from time to time. The housing is made of plastic, so it's not the most durable camera on the market, but it feels sturdy. The camera comes with a one-year guarantee.
Should you buy it?
Yes. Overall, this is a decent camera. It's not the only one attached to a window, nor is it the only one with colored night vision. But it's the only option that offers both. The ease of installation and portability make this camera a very nice low profile camera to fit behind the blinds. It's easy to maintain and it's in your home so you don't have to worry about items, external power sources, or charging batteries.