With wireless networks becoming increasingly common in the modern home, it’s not surprising that manufacturers are exploiting the situation with an array of toys and gizmos to plug in.
D-Link has seen this gap in the market and produced the DCS-5300g - a souped-up webcam that promises wireless security coverage of your home.
The possibilities here are endless: no more roaming the house with a five iron in my hands after hearing a strange noise in the middle of the night and finally a chance to find out what makes those animal noises are bottom of the garden.
Out of the box, I was a little disappointed with the plasticky feel to the camera and immediately realised that it was actually quite fragile (that’s the flower bed surveillance out then). D-Link is quick to point out that this is designed as indoor equipment rather than nature hunting outside but still it would have been nice to have that option for the price.
The easy set-up guide seemed the obvious place to start and apart from the fact that there was an entire page of settings not covered, I managed to get the camera installed. The configuration processes use a web browser interface and an Ethernet cable, but beware, in tests we had some trouble with network addresses - mainly that the software automatically assigned an address to the camera, which was already occupied by another PC on my network. Once this was overcome however, the rest of the setup was relatively straightforward.
The bundled software suite consists of two applications: one to monitor the camera and another to play back any recorded material. Both these were user friendly and easy to configure.
My initial feeling on seeing the picture from the camera was that the image quality was quite poor - especially as D-Link are keen to point out that the 5300 is a security camera and not a regular webcam. However, the image quality was improved by tweaking a few settings according to bandwidth and frame refresh rate (I’m getting the hang of this networking jargon by now).
The digital zoom, like most cameras, was a bit disappointing and the picture quality suffered greatly at maximum range. The pan and tilt was smooth however, and once I’d selected the appropriate movement increments, I could hone in on any object fairly accurately (even if I couldn’t tell quite what it was…).
The inbuilt microphone was more than adequate for security monitoring, however an external microphone can be added if required. The whole unit can be attached to a TV and video, both for viewing and recording, although most users will take advantage of the hard disk recording capabilities of the 5300G as a means of storing the footage produced.
This I should point out was all achieved in the camera’s wired mode (i.e. physically connected to my router) and the first major problem I encountered was switching to wireless mode. The manual was a bit sketchy on the whole idea (apart from pages and pages of info on settings and more acronyms that an episode of ER) and I finally resorted to phoning the D-Link support line. Forty minutes on the phone to a helpful chap called Walter, and I soon had the camera operating wirelessly. Its full potential became immediately apparent.
You can set it to “Auto Patrol” a selected field of view and it can be connected to other device such as sirens and flashing lights to indicate activity. The camera can also be configured to record snapshots in a staggeringly comprehensive combination of schedules and intervals. These can then be saved to hard disk or even emailed to an account of your choosing. As baby monitors go this thing is the cat’s pyjama’s, giving vigilant parents real-time live feeds of their pride and joy. It is motion sensitive and fully adjustable to react to the slightest twitch of baby Johnny’s blanket. It also comes with a small infrared remote to pan and tilt the camera.
With correct settings, the camera is also accessible from any computer via the web, so the possibilities for keeping an eye on things back home (especially with the prospect of 3G phones linking directly into your home security network via the web) are truly amazing.
A major concern we have with this camera has to be what can be achieved when this sort of equipment falls into, shall we say, less salubrious hands. Here is a unit that can be placed anywhere within a wireless network range, is remotely controlled and accessed, and that you can set up to look inactive even while recording (no telltale LEDs).
On page 5 of the manual, there is a small disclaimer about recording people without their knowledge or consent, but that's about all that's said on the matter and security experts or peeping Tom's s will also revel in the knowledge that you add and monitor up to 15 other cameras to the system - though at £325 a pop this seems a little ambitious.
Downsides? Dubious build quality and to a certain degree the price: this is surely being aimed at the home or small office user. In addition, the manual was not that easy to follow in my opinion (this apparently due to it being translated, badly, from Taiwanese…) and I always prefer a proper book as opposed to the PDF versions.
Networking experts will have no trouble though and will almost certainly get the most from this piece of kit.
Ethical objections aside, the DCS-5300G is a useful addition to any wireless network, however probably not for the uninitiated. One thing to note is that even with that disclaimer, it's still worth doing a few self tests, printing out some still frames with pictures and making sure that the footage produced will be clear enough to count as admissible evidence in a British Court, if you don't want a conventional CCTV system.