The hunting market sure has changed. What was once a business dominated by only a few manufacturers offering a relatively small number of products has become just the opposite. Every year, countless new products are developed and existing and start-up companies quickly jump on the "me-too" train with their own version. This is not all bad, as competition creates innovation and "me-too" becomes "me-too-only-better." Better is the focus behind Day Six Outdoors, a relatively new company in the market. Their objective is " ... to develop innovative products that address limitations of products currently available or remove boundaries to traditional ways of doing things." I put their PlotWatcher Time-Lapse HD Video Camera to the test to find out if it truly was a different way to scout game and not just another fish in the sea of available trail cameras.
Unlike the traditional trail camera method of taking a photo or video snapshot when motion is detected, the PlotWatcher Time Lapse HD Video Camera, or PlotWatcher TLV, operates on the premise of collecting an image every 5 or 10 seconds from dawn to dusk and then saving those images in video format. Think of it as a high-tech, digital flip book. It continuously snaps an image at the selected interval from the time you turn it on until one of the following happens: it becomes nighttime, the programmable midday skip occurs, you turn it off, the batteries deplete, or the storage becomes full.
The PlotWatcher TLV specifications are as follows:
Power Source: 4 AA batteries
Battery Life: 84 hours of daytime video (approx. 30,000 images or 7 days but varies with battery type, temperature, amount of detail in the images, type of USB drive) - using 10 second interval setting and 4 standard alkaline AA batteries
Video: 1280 x 1024 (HD) or 640 x 368 (Std)
Storage: USB drive (SanDisk Cruzer recommended)
Mounting: Bungee cords or adjustable stake (both included)
The PlotWatcher uses AA batteries for a power source and a USB drive for storage.
The PlotWatcher can be mounted to a tree with bungee cords or placed anywhere with the removable, adjustable stake.
Preparing the PlotWatcher for operation is pretty simple. You just turn the rotary dial to the desired interval/midday skip combination, insert a compatible USB drive and turn on the unit. The idea behind the 4-hour or 8-hour midday skip is to save storage space and battery life by skipping the portion of the day when many types of game are bedded or inactive. If you are monitoring turkeys or bucks in the rut or have specific needs, the "none" or "custom" selections increase the versatility of the PlotWatcher.
The PlotWatcher allows the user to adjust the frame interval and midday skip to their specific situation.
During testing, the PlotWatcher was mounted directly above a traditional trail camera for capture comparison and set for a 10-second interval/4-hour midday skip HD recording.
After a few days, I removed the cameras and prepared to download the media from each. The PlotWatcher comes with its own software, Day 6 GameFinder Video Player Software with MotionSearch. I installed the software on a pc (a Mac version is in development), plugged in the USB drive and launched the program. After pointing the program to the drive and selecting the desired file (each day is stored as a separate file), the chosen video clip opened.
The GameFinder Software user interface.
Once the file was loaded into the GameFinder software, the fun began. There were a few options when it came to looking at the video file. Clicking on "Play" did exactly that, played the video uninterrupted in the software interface until I clicked pause. Clicking on "Search" was similar to "Play" but stopped and marked each spot that it detected movement in the footage. Sensitivity was adjustable by clicking on "Setting" and selecting a different "Motion Search Sensitivity". When I found a series of frames that I wanted to study closer, I could choose "Step" which advanced the footage one frame. The "Zoom" option allowed me to get a closer look at a particular frame.
The software had several options for viewing the footage.
A sample video clip captured by the PlotWatcher.
The Search function found horizontal movement in the footage, stopped the video playback and marked the location of the movement.
The Zoom function allowed for a closer look at a particular animal or area of the image.
The PlotWatcher stored the video files in .tlv format (a full resolution AVI file) but the software also allowed me to export a portion of a video clip as a smaller .wmv file or even a particular frame as a .jpg file. G
The software allowed for several export options including file type, length and location.
An exported .jpg image from the PlotWatcher.
How did the PlotWatcher images compare to those of a traditional trail camera? Below are a few captures for comparison. In the first two images, the PlotWatcher's wide angle lens picked up a buck that was out of the field of view of the trail camera. The third image shows a deer passing at a distance that was too far to activate the traditional trail camera but was captured by the PlotWatcher.
Moultrie Trail Camera screen capture for view comparison.
PlotWatcher screen capture for view comparison with highlight.
The highlighted area shows the field of view of the traditional trail camera used in the testing.
The PlotWatcher captured this deer but the motion detection distance limitations of the traditional trail camera failed to pick up the movement.
When I first heard of the PlotWatcher TLV, I was concerned about searching through hours and hours of footage to find a relatively small clip of deer movement. The midday skip and search options virtually eliminate that issue. Finding deer activity in the files was quick. By using the Search feature of the GameFinder software, I was able to survey a dawn-to-dusk, 12-hour file in about 1 minute. Even when using the Play function to see every frame of the video (over 4,000 frames for this particular day), the same file played in less than 15 minutes.
Due to the time-lapse imaging of the PlotWatcher, this video capture of a 16-minute period of time only takes 39 seconds to view.
Despite a couple of drawbacks (84-hour battery life*, no nighttime capture) the PlotWatcher TLV proved to be a unique and informative way to scout game. The wide angle lens picked up game outside of the traditional trail camera field-of-view. Since the PlotWatcher is not dependent on motion detection to capture images, the ever-present triggering problems of sensors was not an issue. The software interface was user-friendly. Most importantly (and the real benefit of the product) is that I was able to pattern actual game movement. Instead of having a single image of a deer as supplied by traditional trail cameras and trying to decipher where he came from, where he went and what he was doing, the PlotWatcher provided a time-lapse version of everything that happened in front of the lens. It was as if I was sitting in that exact spot from dawn to dusk and watching everything that happened.
The PlotWatcher Time-Lapse HD Video Camera retails for $199.99. More information can be found at www.day6outdoors.com .
*Day 6 Outdoors has released a firmware upgrade on their website to improve battery life. Testing of the upgrade by the manufacturer has resulted in increased battery life of up to 60,000 images or up to 24 days of operation.
Larry R. Beckett Jr. is a full time freelance writer, photographer and videographer. His greatest joy is spending time fishing, hunting and hiking with his wife and son. Larry discovered his enthusiasm for the outdoors at a young age and devotes much of his time trying to instill that same enthusiasm in future generations.