With the popularity of home networks, it has become very easy to setup a remote video surveillance system, but there are a lot of options out there and the symbiotic relationship between hardware and software often makes the choice of a surveillance system an “all-in” option because it is not easy, if not impossible, to mix hardware from many different brands (we need this to change).
I’m a webcam enthusiast, so I’ve decided to take a look at the DLink DSC-930L to see how well it does in the real world. The interest for this particular line of products from DLink is of the seemingly good price/quality ratio, the ease of setup and the availability of both web-based surveillance and local-network surveillance and recording. At a price hovering around $75 per camera, users now have the possibility to set up a convenient multi-point video surveillance system for an affordable price. So – how good is it?
DLink DSC-930L Overview
The DLink DSC-930L is a simple-looking webcam that has a plastic body and stand that can be used on a flat surface or screwed directly to a wall. The design is very simple, and rather classic: you may see similarly designed cameras from other brands. The camera is very easy to orient and you should have no problem pointing it towards a particular direction. If only DLINK could have a wide angle version…
In the back, there is an Ethernet port, but unfortunately, the camera is not designed to be powered by Ethernet. To be fair, many Ethernet HUBs/switches don’t provide enough power for that purpose anyway. The combo camera + arm is very light: to give you an idea, it’s much lighter than most smartphones. In the front, the lens, microphone and LED light are prominent, and it is easy to spot if the camera is active or not (assuming that this is a good thing).
By default, the setup assumes that you want to use a web-based remote surveillance. Because of that, you are immediately directed to a setup that will initialize the camera and assign it to your MyDlink.com account. The whole setup for each camera is relatively easy, even if saving parameters to the camera can be slow (and frustrating). In the end, it all worked with minimum trouble, but trouble nonetheless (a couple of “camera not found”, “cannot save settings”…). If your router supports WPS, you won’t even have to enter a WiFi password.
If you want to install the local network surveillance software, there’s a link to a different software package called D-ViewCam. The installer user-interface is really not obvious, but if you know what to look for, the link is just at the bottom of the main installation screen. The good news is that both local and web-based surveillance can be used simultaneously, so when you’re home, you can view up to 32 cameras on a fast network. While on the go, the web interface lets you choose one camera at a time.
Depending on your upload speed, you can get up to 640×480 at 20FPS (I can reach this with the 30Mbps/7Mbps connection at the office). For more modest Internet connections (sub-1Mbps upload), things quickly go to 320×240. It seems to me that the webcam is using MJPEG to encode frames, and this is clearly not the most efficient video format (far from it…), but it is probably the cheaper hardware to embed in the internal camera software.
The web interface is convenient because it works pretty much on any computer. However, I did not like the fact that MyDlink.com requires Java plug-ins. Flash would have been a better choice in my opinion. Regardless of the connection speed, I found the overall web interface to be slow and somewhat clunky, but it does not requires any router setup (especially Network Address Translation, or NAT), so it remains consumer-friendly.
At the moment, you can only watch one camera at a time online, and there’s no thumbnail, so you need to name your cameras accordingly, or be faced with a list of DLink DSC-930L + Serial # names, which is not so intuitive.
If you have an iOs or Android device, it is possible to download an application that basically do what the website does, but without having to install a Java plug-in or anything like that. This is in my opinion the most convenient way to keep an eye on those cameras while on the go as there is much less “friction” and the user interface is better. In fact, I often use the apps, even if my laptop is nearby.
Local network surveillance
As I said earlier, the installation CD also came with a software called D-ViewCam that allows video surveillance and recording on a local network (WiFi or Wired). Because of the faster speed of a home network, the video feeds tend to be more fluid, but again, the videos can become a bit blurry if your network is busy.
What’s interesting is that D-ViewCam lets you track up a heterogeneous group of up to 32 webcams, and you can see tiles, and set things up so that the software alerts you when there is something deemed interesting to look at (probably from a motion-based algorithm).
It is also possible to set up a digital video recording (DVR) function, and the software will automatically delete old recordings if the available storage goes below a preset threshold (in %). I haven’t really dug into this, but from what I could see after installing the software, it seemed to have the proper features for home use.
Image and audio quality
As I said earlier, this is pretty average-quality video when it comes to surveillance cameras, but in the grand scheme of things, and given the low-price, I feel like it’s very competitive. To get better video frame-rates, a hardware-based MPEG4 solution may work better, but at the expense of affordability. In my view, the best usage for this is basic remote surveillance where you just want to check if your home has been visited, or if a child is sleeping.
It was very interesting to review DLINK’s DSC-930L camera because I’m sure that its attractive price should make many people consider it. In the end, I feel like this is one of the best low-cost solutions on the market. Obviously, you won’t get “pro” image quality, but for the price of a single “fancier” camera, you can buy three or four of these. At least, that’s my thinking.
The setup is OK, but I found that Dropcam was much easier to install, although the older Dropcam Echo had a really low image quality. Dropcam also has a great cloud-based DVR feature that is better (and unique) because it records directly off-site, so even if someone steals/destroys your camera and equipment, the recording is safe on Dropcam.com.
DLINK should improve the overall software for its cameras. It is true that in the world of consumer surveillance cameras, standards are relatively low, but the company could add a lot more value by investing in software, than it would by releasing almost a dozen different cameras. I love the idea of managing a swarm of cheap cameras. Finally, DLINK should also look at details like power cable length as the current ones have proved to be too short for virtually everything that I tried to do: electric outlets are often at ground level, and we tend to place cameras on a vantage point, if possible.
In conclusion, I would like to add that I don’t consider this to be a real “security” setup as it does not have power-independence or remote recording. However it should work great for most home surveillance schemes where you don’t expect intruders to cut power to your home, or destroy the cameras/recorder. The DLINK DSC-930L has one of the best price/quality ratio of any such cameras that we have tested ($75 street price) and has enough software to make the cameras really useful.