If money and time are in short supply, and you don’t mind compromising on video quality for your surveillance system, consider the Swann DVR-4 2600 4-Channel DVR & Camera Kit, which is very inexpensive ($450 as of June 13, 2012) and offers quick and easy deployment. The system, which includes four night-vision cameras and a network-capable DVR, requires only a simple analog video display to be complete–you can use a TV with a composite video input (RCA or BNC connectors) or a computer monitor with a VGA input.
This particular kit is limited to four cameras and cannot be upgraded beyond that, but Swann manufactures a host of other models with more cameras. The DVR comes outfitted with a 500GB hard drive that you can easily swap out for a higher-capacity drive (up to 2TB), and it also has a very basic operating system with a graphical user interface that you navigate with either an infrared remote or a USB mouse (both of which are included).
You can control the DVR–and monitor the cameras–remotely from either your local network or the Internet. Swann emphasizes in its user manual how easy the DVR is to configure for remote access if you turn on your router’s UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) capability, but we could not get it to play nice with the Asus RT-N66U router we used for our evaluation. Fortunately, Swann’s user manual does a commendable job of explaining which of your router’s ports you must open and forward in order to enable remote access to the DVR from the Internet (using an Internet-connected PC, tablet, or smartphone, and Swann’s client software). And since only the DVR requires an IP address, you need configure port forwarding only once (not once for each camera).
Unlike the Logitech Alert and Trendnet SecurView Pro systems we examined, however, Swann does not use IP (Internet Protocol) cameras. Each camera is instead hardwired with two 60-foot cables–one for analog video and the other for power. A single power supply with a four-cable pigtail powers all four cameras. This arrangement is convenient in that you don’t need to have a power outlet available where you deploy each camera, but it does limit the range you can cover. The DVR relies on a separate inline power brick, similar to what you’d get with a laptop computer. The DVR encodes the cameras’ video streams using the h.264 codec as it records to its hard drive.
A view of the user interface from a remote PC. The system supports smartphones and tablets, too.
The front of the DVR has a collection of buttons for video recording and playback, as well as for menu navigation (the remote control is equipped with the same). The back of the DVR has two USB ports, one of which is intended to support a mouse (but not a keyboard); you can use the other port to back up the internal hard drive to an external drive. You’ll also find four BNC video inputs and four RCA audio inputs for the four cameras (although the cameras provided are not outfitted with mics), an RS485 serial port (for controlling pan/tilt/zoom cameras, which are not included), two BNC video outputs, one VGA output, and two RCA audio outputs. You can designate one of the video outputs as Main and use the second to display the GUI, so that you don’t obscure the view from the cameras while you’re managing settings. BNC cables have a twist-lock mechanism that prevents accidental disconnection if the cables are tugged on.
Swann’s camera enclosures feature rugged all-metal construction, and their weather-resistant casing means they can reside indoors or out. They deliver a relatively low resolution of just 480p (640 by 480). Although they have gooseneck fittings that can tilt and swivel, they can’t stand on their own and must be screwed into a wall, ceiling, or other flat surface (alternatively, you could make your own tabletop stands out of a block of wood and screw the cameras down to them).
In addition, the cameras have motion detectors and excellent night-vision capabilities (up to 66 feet). Although you can’t produce several independent motion-sensing zones with the user interface, you can create a single zone with more precision than is possible with Logitech’s Alert cameras.
Not surprisingly, the feature we like best about Swann’s DVR-4 2600 is its DVR. Having a stand-alone unit controlling the cameras and recording their output means not having to run a PC 24/7 for that purpose. The system is also very easy to set up, although Swann’s software lacks the sophistication and polish of the Logitech Alert system. (On the other hand, Swann’s software supports more camera features than Logitech’s does, although you’d need to upgrade to Swann’s higher-end camera models to actually take advantage of them.) Having only four cameras might not be ideal for some businesses, but if that’s enough coverage for you today, you can buy a higher-end model and deploy a second, independent system down the road.
Unfortunately, you have no way to upgrade the cameras’ resolution (which is vastly inferior to that of both the Logitech Alert system and the Trendnet SecurView Pro offering). And since Swann’s software depends on ActiveX controls, you’ll need to use Internet Explorer to control the system remotely over the Internet (you can use a PC client to control the system from a local computer). Remote access on smartphones and tablets, meanwhile, is limited to remote viewing–you can’t control the system using these devices. Nevertheless, for the money, Swann’s system is hard to beat. [PCWORLD.COM]