If you can’t be physically present to keep an eye on your home, business or vacation property, the next best thing is a state-of-the-art digital camera that will do more than just record a picture. You want a camera that has the ability to stream real-time video to the networked device of your choice.
Unlike typical security cameras, network or IP cameras, as they are sometimes called, don’t require a closed circuit TV system and special cabling to work. Instead, they connect to your home’s network to provide a real-time video stream you can access from any connected computer. The most flexible systems let you view multiple feeds through a Web browser, smartphone or tablet PC.
These cameras connect to a network through an Ethernet cable (the same commonly found cable that connects your router to your modem) or, better yet, wirelessly via Wi-Fi, just like a laptop or tablet. Once connected, they can stream video for real-time viewing and capture pictures to a networked hard disk for you to watch at your convenience. D-Link offers a variety of models that range from very affordable, easy-to-install home units to professional, dome-style cameras like those you’d find in a high-security environment.
This guide describes the various classes of network cameras, explains how typical users might put them to work, and helps you select the best camera to meet your needs. It outlines key features to help you decide which options are most critical. For more information, click on the highlighted links.
Cut to the Chase
Let’s consider your monitoring needs and identify network camera models that suit you. What kind of user are you?
Homeowner. Whether you’re at home or away, you always want to keep a close eye on your kids, your pets and the house itself; the right network camera will help you do just that at a price you can afford. When you’re at work, you might worry that someone will break in through the backdoor or that a pipe may burst during the winter and flood your home. Fortunately, there are cameras designed to alert you with no delay.
· Easy setup
· Wireless (Wi-Fi) connectivity
· Monitor from anywhere
· Motion sensing and recording options
· Night vision (optional)
Watchdog. You want to use a network camera to keep tabs on what’s happening around your property. There may also be times when you need to make voice contact with a person in the camera’s view, whether they’re at the front gate of your home or in the backroom of your business.
· Two-way audio
· Ability to archive video for future reference
Security chief. You need to keep tabs on a large space. Shoplifters and break-in artists are savvy enough to notice where a camera is pointing and may even attempt to vandalize cameras to avoid getting caught. Consequently you need a low-profile model that doesn’t call attention to itself.
· Night vision
· Ruggedized and vandal-proof
· Translucent dome that masks direction camera is aimed
· Suitable for outdoor use
Network Camera Categories
An ordinary homeowner needs reliable monitoring that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, whereas a business owner might be interested in greater functionality and integration with existing security systems. Network cameras fall into two classes corresponding to these types of users.
Entry level. These cameras are small, inexpensive, and perfect for homeowners, pet owners and anyone with something to watch. Designed to be easy to set up, they connect to a wireless home network at the push of a button.
Key features include:
· Wireless capability for easy integration with existing networks and flexibility of placement
· Compact size, so you can put them anywhere – on a shelf or mounted on the wall
· Plug and play operation to get them up and running in minutes
· Ability to check camera feeds from any popular web browser, iPhone, Android device or tablet.
· Advanced features including scheduled recording, triggering upon motion detection, email alerts, and the ability to store video on a computer’s hard drive
· Low cost so you can purchase enough cameras to cover as many rooms as you need to watch
· Night vision for viewing unlit indoor areas or outdoors after dark
Professional level. These cameras are more expensive than entry-level cameras. However, the added investment pays off in upgraded features that make it possible to integrate your cameras with dedicated alarm and sensor systems.
Key features include:
· Designed for permanent installation, with a durable, rugged housing
· Weather-resistant options for exterior installation
· Wired or wireless connectivity
· Additional outputs for alarm systems and other add-ons
Optional features available on select models include:
· Night vision
· Two-way audio for communication with people in the camera’s view
· Pan-tilt-zoom features to let an operator control the camera’s view
· Power-over-Ethernet to power the unit via a standard Ethernet cable
· Translucent plastic dome to make cameras unobtrusive and vandal-resistant
· Aesthetically pleasing, with lens and cables tucked away out of sight
Network Camera Features
Not all cameras work the same way or offer the same capabilities. In this section, we’ll look at the most important features and what they mean to you.
Wired versus wireless. Some cameras support wireless, or Wi-Fi, while others require a wired connection of some kind, either Ethernet or PowerLine. Wireless cameras give you the flexibility to keep an eye on areas that don’t have wired Ethernet connections. However, a wired connection may be more reliable depending on the building’s construction and the router’s location. All D-Link network cameras offer a wired Ethernet option, and most are wireless-ready.
Web access. Some cameras require special software to access a camera output. Only computers that have this software installed can view the feed. Other cameras support Web-based access, so you can check your cameras from any Internet-connected PC. Mydlink-enabled network cameras all include easy access via mydlink.com and all other D-Link network cameras can be accessed through a Web browser.
Mobile interface. A smartphone app lets you check your camera feed when no PC is available. D-Link’s mobile interface is a free app called mydlink, available for both iPhone and Android devices. The app works with all mydlink-enabled cameras, including DCS-930L and DCS-932L.
Low-light operation. Some cameras can illuminate a low-light area with infrared lighting. This lighting is invisible to the human eye but allows the camera a clear view, even in total darkness. The D-Link DCS-932L includes this capability.
Recording and archiving. Sifting through hours of video for a specific event can be a chore. If you know ahead of time when the event will occur, you can schedule individual cameras to record video at that time and archive it to a networked hard drive. D-Link cameras come with D-ViewCam software, which lets you set cameras to record automatically at a given time.
Motion sensing. If you choose to record footage only when motion is detected, you’ll save disk space and know exactly which footage you need to view. D-Link’s D-ViewCam software makes it easy to set motion triggers as well as specify recording schedules so you can record what you want, when you want. You can even set the record function to respond to motion in a particular part of the camera’s field of vision.
Pan/tilt/zoom. PTZ capability lets you control the camera’s position and zoom remotely and in real time, giving you a wide range of close-up visibility instead of a static view. You’ll find pan/tilt/zoom in the D-Link cameras such as the DCS-5300 and DCS-5610.
Two-way audio. An onboard microphone lets you listen in on sounds in a camera’s vicinity. You also have the option to add powered speakers so you can talk to people nearby, a capability that’s especially useful if you’re monitoring a building’s entry point. You’ll find two-way audio in the D-Link DCS-3110 and DCS-5610.
Power Over Ethernet. With PoE, there’s no need to plug the camera into a traditional wall outlet. Instead, you power the camera with the same Ethernet cable that connects it the network. (POE switches are inexpensive and must be purchased separately.) This feature can be found in the D-Link DCS-3110, DCS-5610, and DCS-6111.
Dome-style design. You’ve probably seen dome-style cameras in higher-security environments such as banks and retail outlets. A sturdy dome covers the camera lens, protecting it from damage and obscuring the lens, which makes it harder for subjects to know whether they’re within the camera’s view. D-Link dome cameras include the DCS-6111 and DCS-6510.
It’s important to keep tabs on your home, business, vacation property, or loved ones whether you’re home or not. The right network camera makes that easy to achieve. Whatever your needs, whatever your budget, there’s a D-Link network camera that fits the bill.
This story, "Network Camera Buying Guide" was originally published by BrandPost.