IP Cameras Keep Watch (Part 1) - D-Link DCS-5222L, Logitech Alert 750e

11/8/2012 9:16:23 AM

Network video-surveillance cameras can help you monitor your home or office from anywhere. We tested five consumer and business models.

Webcams are good for holding video chats. They're also great at snapping a few shots when they detect motion, and emailing the photos to you. For thorough monitoring and protection, however, turn to IP (Internet Protocol) video cameras.

The main advantages of such specialized cameras: They can handle low-light situations better than webcams can, and they let you easily record happenings at your home or office via your local area network and then review the video footage from wherever you may be.

Network cameras are a cost-effective crime deterrent; even if a thief ignores them, they can provide evidence that should help a law-enforcement investigation. You can add some cameras to home automation and alarm systems, too.

Better-quality models carry a two-digit IP rating (in this case, the initialism stands for "ingress protection"). The IP rating specifies the degree of protection that a camera's enclosure provides against solid objects (indicated by the first digit) and liquids (indicated by the second digit).

I tested five network cameras. I'll cover the consumer models – from D-Link, Logitech, and Trendnet – first, and then I'll discuss the business-oriented models, from Axis and Trendnet.

D-Link DCS-5222L

Description: D-Link DCS-5222L

If you want a pan/tilt IP camera for security purposes, but you don't need top-shelf performance and design, the $250 D-Link DCS-5222L is worth a look. It offers many of the same features as the Axis M5014 business model does, at half the price. It also boasts night vision and two-way audio, which the Axis lacks.

So what do you give up in exchange? Video quality, for starters. Although the DCS- 5222L offers 1280-by-720- pixel resolution, just as the Axis M5014 does, video from the D-Link Looks much fuzzier. The DCS-5222L is also vulnerable to tampering, since its lens and pan/tit mechanism are unprotected. And anyone who wants to prevent it from recording need only pull out its easily accessible MicroSD card.

D-Link's software wizard handles setup basics, but a complete configuration will have you jumping through hoops. In addition to the wizard, you need to learn the D-View local client interface, the MyDlink online interface, and (if you want to get into the camera's firmware) the Advanced Settings interface.

D-ViewCam lets you monitor up to 32 D-Link cameras using a local PC. MyDLink, a free companion app for PCs, smartphones, and tablets, allows you to view video streamed from your cameras over the Internet. The app has some limitations: You can view only one stream at a time, you can't resize the window any larger than 645 by 350 pixels or so, and streaming automatically times out after a few minutes.

The D-Link DCS-5222L provides a lot of features and flexibility for $250, but it stumbles on the quality of its footage. If image quality is paramount to you, check out Logitech's Alert 750e night-vision camera, which offers much better results despite a lower resolution.

Logitech Alert 750e

Description: Logitech Alert 750e

The most impressive feature of the $350 Logitech Alert 750e system is the quality of the camera, in terms of its video output and its physical construction. At 960 by 720 pixels and 15 frames per second, the video-capture resolution of the Alert 750e is lower than that of competitors, but the video quality is exceptional. In addition, the camera's exterior is made from zinc, not plastic. The drawbacks are the relatively high cost and the fact that you can't install and monitor more than six cameras.

The setup I tested uses HomePlug AV powerline networking, in which electricity and ethernet data packets travel over the same cable. This arrangement means you must have an AC outlet within the vicinity of each camera, but you don't need to string cable from your router or your PC; you just insert a Logitech HomePlug AV adapter (included with each master system) into an outlet near your router. Each camera also comes with its own HomePlug AV adapter.

If your home or office has poor electrical wiring, powerline networking might deliver spotty performance or fail altogether. Logitech also sells the same outdoor and indoor cameras configured to run on Power over Ethernet.

The camera saves motion-triggered video recordings to a MicroSD card (a 2GB card is provided, but you can use cards as Large as 32GB). In addition, you can set the 750e to transfer recordings to your Dropbox account.

The Logitech Alert 750e system is top-notch in nearly every respect: The camera is rugged, it produces great-quality footage, it records audio, it doesn't rely on a host PC, and it's easy to install and configure. If you don't mind the six-camera Limit, you won't find a better choice.

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