Our previous Swann Communications product review was about the Digital Private Eye. It was a handy device, unobtrusive but ultimately rather limited.
The DVR4-Pro-Net Combo Kit is a much more professional setup and a bit more complicated, both to install and to suss out the various features.
With 4 CCTV cameras, an LCD Monitor and a DVR recorder this combo kit means business: it will keep your home or business premises under surveillance for a long, long time, recording only when it detects motion as one of the options. It can even alert you over the Internet if an intruder is afoot!
The Unboxing and Installation
There are quite a few items in the various boxes but unboxing it and putting it together is fairly straightforward.
Things can get trickier when you physically have to install the various cameras at the best possible locations. There are a few limiting factors here: distance to the DVR is probably the main one as these cameras are wired and come supplied with 8 m long cables. You can never really cable in a straight line either so the actual distance is shorter too. I elected to set up the DVR in my office which overlooks the main entrance to the premises. Two of the cameras are aimed at the gate and the entry and a third camera provides an overview of the office itself from the inside. I opted to install these cameras permanently, which means hiding the cabling with conduit piping. This took up a lot of time, including drilling holes in the outside wall for the piping and wiring. This is where I seriously started to think about getting some wireless cameras!
The user manual is fairly comprehensive and probably pretty necessary for most people. From that perspective it is not an easy read and a lot of abbreviations will be totally unfamiliar. The manual lacks a glossary so if you want to figure out what PTZ control does, well, it supports PELCO-D protocol... You can see we are having fun already! And we are not even talking about its networking capability which will flummox most folks. So let's see how I fared.
A bit confusing is the fact that the manual covers five different yet very similar models so you must make sure which one you have in the box. And let's assume that yours comes with a hard drive installed already as the manual talks about the first point of business is to install a HDD. This combo kit does come with 160 GB drive, which can keep you going for days, weeks or even months depending on quality setting and/ or frame rate. The four wired CCTV cameras -- colour in daylight and black-and-white when using infrared in the dark – get plugged into the back of the DVR with additional BNC to RCA adapters. Wonder why they did not use one standard connection type.
Once hooked up the easiest way to get some incriminating footage is to press a few buttons on the front panel of the DVR. You can also configure everything through a network and you might well consider this if you're not daunted by networking terminology, like TCP and IP stuff... Through a network you can control everything from your PC, like telling it when to record. The ability to detect motion is a key feature. To prevent false alarms from your pet Rottweiler (I know, you're VERY security conscious!) you can divide the images into cells in a grid and select only those cells above the height where your best friend can jump. If you do the network thing you can check for any untoward happenings whilst you sip your gin and tonic in a Bali beach cafe. Yes, it may ruin your holiday and too much angst and worry can't be good for the system. Or, you can let Big Brother send you an email to your phone in case of an intrusion. I have not tried this yet because of lack of encryption. I might be tempted to compromise remote-access security for just a short while to see how I can check on my fortress while away on a short business trip. Not that any opportunist intruder has much of a chance to pass the laser beams, the roadside detection devices or microwave blasters...
The quality of the video from the cameras is fairly decent. There's no need to skimp on resolution as the 160GB drive will cater for the longest holiday. And when you watch the playbacks you might as well see the culprits in glorious 1080p definition. Well, not quite, but the results are more watchable than what some security cameras produce that a lot of businesses are equipped with! Sometimes TV broadcasters will ask for the public's help in recognising a crim but the footage quality would not be fit for YouTube... This unit delivers a video resolution of 720 x 480 @ 30 fps or 720 x 576 @ 25 fps which is quite reasonable.
At night the picture turns to black and white and a touch of mystery. Ghosts wonder around (yes, that's me sneaking around the office) and weird light balls dance in front of the camera. Turns out a spider started to make its web right in front of the camera and outside the focal range. So it appeared as a mysterious light flurry... These things can trigger a few false alarms of course but I've switched off the movement buzzer so that I don't get alarmed with every movement. If I were running Fort Knox that would be different, of course. Best results are obtained in areas with fairly constant lighting as I noticed quite a few "movement events" on windy days with lots of clouds. It also helps to have cameras indoors and not too far away from possible intruders for easy identification. I found it impossible to read a license plate of cars coming up our driveway, for instance, and noticed that the camera was really too far from our front door. Another suggestion that wireless cameras would be a welcome addition.
A simple but very necessary feature in my area with frequent power problems: the DVR auto restarts once power is restored after a power failure. My regular Sony DVR doesn't even do this, meaning scheduled recording is often on the blink. I have this Swann DVR also running on my Eaton Powerware 5110 UPS to ensure it's always on the ready.
Just in case you are interested: the whole setup runs on less than 40 Watts.
The only major problem you might encounter is that the manual does not make it easy for first-time users. In this DIY segment companies really have to write useful documentation that will explain and not assume that everyone knows the ins and outs of security equipment.
The official US pricing is $999 but shop around for the best deal.
Buy.com seems to sell it for USD799 which looks like excellent value.
The Australian pricing is $1699 which seems a tad high, given the near parity of our dollars...
Mind you, the Combo gives excellent value for your money and what's more, promises a real chance of recovering your assets in case someone tries to intrude on your property!
So our conclusion: if you've got something to protect or monitor: the Swann DVR4-Pro-Net Combo Kit is a great choice.
# MJPEG & MPEG4 video compression technology for high quality recording or high disk storage capacity
# Multiplexing allows live display, recording, playback, backup and network operation at the same time
# Long-Recording Hours: 160GB HDD can record more than 55 days (4CH, CIF Best Quality, 15IPS)
# Backup Function supports network remote recording & backup
# Remote Surveillance to access your DVR surveillance over the internet
# Web surveillance allows 5 users to view cameras simultaneously
# Intelligent Motion Trigger Recording includes 4 levels of motion detection sensitivity to suit variations in lighting conditions
# Records to hard drive when motion detection alarm is activated
# Alarm triggered recording will send alerts with images to your email address
# Supports pre-alarm recording (8MB)
# Supports multi-language on screen display
# DVR auto restarts once power is restored after a power failure
# Supports daylight-saving
# Supports manual / timer / motion / alarm / remote recording functions
# Watermark function ensures authentication of the recorded images
# Supports TCP/IP, PPPoE, DHCP and DDNS network connection
# Play Back View recorded surveillance using Event, Time or Motion search functions
What's in the Package?
• DVR4-Pro Net with 160GB HDD
• 4 Maxi day/night cameras
• 8" LCD Monitor with Remote Control and cables
• BNC to RCA video cable 3ft (1m)
• Power supply & adapters
• 4 BNC cables
• Swann DIY Security DVD
• 4 Theft deterrent stickers