Installing and using this system has easily been my most enjoyable review to date. I wish I could write more about it, but my original review exceeded the maximum review length by 2/3! Boo!
As a software developer I’m generally quite critical of poorly designed or poorly functioning applications, but Q-SEE has done a pretty good job with this, I must say. In fact, considering the sheer amount of functionality packed into the application I’m quite surprise that it’s not quirky and buggy.
Let’s start with the cameras, which are well built and quite stylish. They have a circular array of sensors and IR lights for night vision. They’re not too big and can be angled any way you need to via three swiveling joints. Each camera has two leads to connect to the feed; power and video. A thin cable is run from the DVR to the camera that has corresponding connectors to hook up with the camera. While you might assume Wi-Fi would be better because you wouldn't need to run cabling, keep in mind that you need power at the camera.
Included with each four pack of cameras are two 60 foot cables and two 100 foot cables. I had to use the 100 footers for all my cameras so far, which obviously means I’ll run out of the long ones if I install many more. To me, they should have just included all 100 footers. They’re quite thin and you can fit a lot in a single conduit, if you run them separately because of the connectors that have to pass through. I placed my DVR in the basement because I can run cables from there in various directions under the house. Most of my runs go through a 1.5” conduit under my mudroom and into the barn cellar. From there I distribute them to cameras I've mounted on different sides of the barn, as well as inside and outside the mudroom. Have fun untangling the feeds! Also included with each four pack of cameras is a single power supply with a four-way splitter to power four remote cameras, which is quite convenient.
Mounting a camera can be done by drilling a hole through the wall and threading the leads from the camera through it or by surface mounting the feed up to the camera and having the connectors hang below it. For all my external cameras I drilled holes in my barn walls, which was quite easy. I used a ¾” auger bit that I had on hand, but technically you don’t need it to be that big. For the cameras that I mounted inside I simply surface mounted them. If I want to install any cameras on the front of the house I’ll have to figure out an approach because I don’t really want to start drilling holes in the house and figure out how to fish wires through insulated walls.
My advice is to walk around and think about where you want cameras and how you’d run the lines. How many cameras do you mount? How high and at what angles? Here’s another lesson-learned. Until you know that the angle of view is what you need (and that a single camera will suffice), I recommend that you get the camera working before you commit to the location and the angle. Run a temporary line to it. This will allow you to use a mobile application connected to the DVR to eliminate any guess work. You may find that you need multiple cameras to get the entire field of view you’re looking for if you want to monitor your yard, for instance. The height is another important factor. If you go too low someone could mess it, but if you go too high the angle could make the video less useful. Again, this is where the live evaluation during installation helps. Once you locate a mounting spot, another suggestion is to drill a small exploratory hole before going right to the big one.
The small, stylish DVR is actually a computer. It comes with a mouse, but there’s no keyboard. The mouse is used with a virtual popup keyboard to enter data at the DVR. The DVR needs an internet connection if you want to use remote monitoring, either from a mobile device or from your work computer. It needs to be in a central location where all the feed lines converge. Finally, you will need a monitor attached to it. This was something I couldn't determine up front, wondering if I could do everything through my network. You cannot. You can do much through the network, but you do need an attached monitor. Also, the video quality on the attached monitor is HD, but any remote viewing is of lessor quality. I bought an inexpensive, used 1280 h LCD. You can point your web browser to the DVR's IP and perform much of the setup and tinkering from the comfort of your keyboard. While I’d rather be able to see the HD video in my home office, I didn't want to run the feeds from the basement to the main living floor. There’s probably something I could do to make this work, but for now I’m fine with going down to the cellar once in a while when the network streaming quality is insufficient. It takes a bit of time to figure out where to find things, but after a while it makes sense. Also, the software on the machine is significantly more robust than the remote software or the browser application.
As you start adding cameras, you’ll quickly realize how important it is to be able name each camera. Unfortunately, not all screens use the channel names, so you’re either left guessing or you’ll need a printed list.
There’s plenty of functionality regarding motion detection, email notices (with image snapshots!), schedules to record on for each channel, the quality of each, etc. One of the coolest features that really blew me away is a screen that shows, for a given camera, the view it sees (real-time) divided into a grid. You can mask out areas that you don’t want to record in the view and even cooler … turn blocks on/off anywhere in the grid that you want ignored for motion detection. For instance, in my back yard is a large spruce with a branch that’s constantly swaying. I can de-select the 7-8 blocks where the branch is located so it doesn’t trip the motion detection! Another good example is a road. If you have a road at the end of your driveway, or along your perimeter, you can mask that out so cars don’t trip it. Finally, and by far the coolest (ok, I’m a bit geeky) while you’re in that view, any blocks where the DVR thinks it sees motion (again, real-time here) will turn red as they trip. So, combined with a sensitivity setting that you control and the ability to turn blocks on/off you can fine tune the motion detection to your needs! Now for the crummy part. While this works perfectly in the test view, meaning I have no false positives while monitoring it, during actual use they still trip. I mean to contact the company to ask for support with this. Hopefully I've just missed something simple or they can get a fix out for it because it’s a really important feature to have working.
One feature that I thought would be really useful, but has turned out not to be is the motion-based snapshot and email notification. I do believe they could fix this with a simple software update, but I won’t hold my breath. I've found that it’s simply too “immediate” to be of use. For instance, I installed a camera inside my mudroom and enabled email notifications. Boy was I disappointed to receive emailed snapshots of the door opened ever so slightly inwards, showing that someone was about to enter the mudroom! If I could program a 5 or 10 second delay for the snapshot it would actually catch the person. Granted, I’ll still have the video of the person, but the snapshot is useless. This also happened in my barn. I walked through the barn to test this feature. The snapshot didn't even catch me!
Video Quality. At the DVR it’s quite fine, but streaming to mobile devices uses a much less useful quality. For instance, while watching me pull into the driveway on the phone or iPad there’s no chance of reading the plate. Likewise, people aren't really recognizable via the streaming. You’d have to go to the DVR to see detail like that. I’m not knowledgeable about video formats and compression so I can’t really speak to the specs. If you are, the information is readily available. Night vision is decent. I've seen rabbits and deer in the yard. The brightness is quite reasonable and it’s pretty cool to be able to see in pitch blackness. At night you can see the camera’s IR sensors lightly glowing.
Accessing video through mobile devices is really cool. You will most likely have to work through the details of opening up a couple of ports through your router in order to reach the DVR externally. I actually had to call for support and they were able to get me up and running. There are a number of apps out there that frankly, I don’t understand the reason for each version and the relationship to the actual product of each. For instance, I got a silly, non-sense message when trying to access my DVR via my SG4 and support’s answer was to install another app that doesn't appear to be theirs. I’m guessing that the system uses a standard that the other app uses. I ended up paying a few bucks for the upgraded version of that app. Q-SEE’s iPad app seems to work decently, but not without some quirks. I really don’t like the time range selection, which is cumbersome. Also, I've had it crash quite a few times.
I am unable to access video from my work. I assume they’re blocking a needed port. I can connect to the box, but any attempt at playing recorded or live video fails.
Summary: There are fancier systems from Q-SEE, but they cost more. When considering this system, try to think through your needs. For instance, this system is not true HD and the cameras don’t support panning and zooming. I do think it’s a great product that works well. The software is quite robust and mature. The equipment is well built and stylish. I definitely recommend Q-SEE, and if this system meets your needs (out of their product line) I believe you’ll be happy!
Lots of Features, Compact, Stylish, Nice Design, Easy Installation
requires dedicated monitor, can't stream higher quality, snapshots of limited use