In this review we look at Swann High Definition network security camera system with digital video recorder(DVR) but first some background.
We were recently asked to review the low-end version of Swann’s network DVR system and although we were impressed by the act that everything was int he box to set up a wired two camera system we were less than impressed with the user interface on the DVR which although very functional assumed far to much knowledge of camera terminology to be useful for the layman. We were however impressed by the software supplied to run on a PC connected to the same network as the DVR, this was far more user friendly and very easy to set up.
Not surprisingly the cameras supplied with the low end unit, whilst good for the price, were limited in quality and resolution. In particular the night vision infrared mode had a very poor range and the limited conical range of the infrared meant that you had to be really careful in placement not to have blind-spots.
The HDR4-8200 is another matter entirely. The user interface on the DVR is a massive leap forward being very like the PC software supplied for the lower end unit in terms of ease of use and the cameras are simply amazing.
The system we were supplied came in a very large box which in turn contained two other boxes. The first of these contained the DVR, connecting cables and mouse. I was pleased to see an HDMI cable included.
The second box contains four HD camera and their connecting cables. The cable reel is massive and should allow you to wire the camera virtually any where in a normal house. Indeed in my case they were a bit too long and I ended up hiding a reel of cable. The connectors consist of sa green BNC type connections for video, (use they do send 1080p video over a BNC connection), a red power jack and a and a two wire control interface. One point of confusion is the camera also has a yellow BNC connection which is not needed but this is not clearly mentioned in the manual. It is nice that the power and control cables are bound together to the video cable meaning you only have to do one run for each cable. The only issue with this is you have to have the power source for the video quite close to the DVR as the power supply which comes with the cameras only has quite a short lead. I would like to see a little more flexibility here.
Setting up the control wiring was a little bit of a faff – the DVR end of the cable is just two bare wires which have to be screwed in to connectors. As the camera end has the same connectors already pre connected I couldn’t see why this wasn’t done both ends. Getting the wires in the connector is fiddly and it takes careful study of the manual to work out which way to connect them. One other thing I found was that the unit would not boot with the control wire connected and I had to plug the cable in after booting. This is not too much of an issue as you will only really use this cable to set up the camera.
More careful reading is needed here as the setting for the camera in terms of aperture, low light response etc are very sneakily hidden in the Pan Tilt Zoom menu requiring a convoluted button click to activate them. There also isn’t much information on what the controls do in the otherwise very good user documentation and I had to go to the website to get real information.
Once set up the cameras are simply breathtaking. Clear images at 1080p with great depth of field and wide vision. Perfect for outdoor CCTV use.
Unlike many of their ilk I was also able to set them up to look outside through a window as they have great night vision even without the IR illumination. I did have the usual problem of the IR illumination reflecting on the window but as it was possible to turn off the iR sensor this didn’t blind the camera. It would have been really nice to be able to turn off the IR illumination as well when the sensor was off.
The DVR software is very much improved, being almost identical to the PC software, and I think most lay people with a little technical acumen could set the system up now. The system is mouse controlled and used HDMI to display its output. It can run headless if needed but you will need a TV or monitor to set it up initially.
It allows for timed recordings, motion capture and even has the ability to trigger external devices through an IO board with connectors on the back of the DVR. Other than the aforementioned control cable the setup was an absolute doddle and I soon had video being displayed in quarter screen mode (one quarter for each camera). Clicking on a feed brings it to full screen where the amount of detail was astounding. I had it pointing at a small car park and was clearly able to read number plates the far side of the car park.
You can also zoom in on the image and pan around the zoomed area. Motion capture seemed effective and you can mask out areas that you do not want to trigger motion – useful say if you have a tree in view waving in the wind.
Once captured you can search recording by date and type (capture, timed etc) and playback the result. One pain here is when you just go into the playback screen and hit play you are always prompted to select a camera – at one stage I only had one camera attached and it was still prompting which was annoying.
Another pain was when looking at a long length of video it was difficult to hone in on a small area. For example I was watching an hour long recording in which a car left the car park. I found I could only jump to a few minutes before the car left and had to leave the video playing those few minutes to see it actually go. I could go back to the search window and tighten the timeline which helped but still bait of a pain. Having said that I have seen a lot worse systems.
I left the system running for several days and it ran very reliably with no issues. In fact the only technical issue was with the PC software. Whilst this was very easy to set up and found the Swann DVR I had connected (by wired ethernet there is no WiFi hardware) to my LAN, it seemed initially to have some real issues to have some problem with video playback with the image losing stability after a few minutes use. Talking to Swann they pointed me to a firmware update for the DVR which did indeed resolve the issue. It would have ben nice if the DVR had a mechanism to check for firmware updates and had prompted me to install – it is after all connected tot he network – but it was not too difficult a process to do this update.
Once updated video in the PC software was rock solid and as virtually all functionality is mirrored form the DVR to the PC software this does allow you to run the DVR even if it is tucked away somewhere with limited access – a loft for example.
All in all I really liked this unit and it is the best consumer wired security system I have come across. I have deducted half a star for some of the niggles I encountered but well worth checking out.